Rivera: Call me just a sprinter, one more time

American takes WorldTour by storm

With over 70 national titles; a university degree; a pro contract with Sunweb; and incredible victories in Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of FlandersCoryn Rivera has already achieved more than most professional riders can even dream of accomplishing. Not only that, but she is re-defining herself as a rider and whatever you do, don’t call the 24-year-old just a sprinter because this complete bike racer is taking European racing by storm and the scariest part is that she’s only getting started.

Sunweb are based in Limburg, the southernmost province in the Netherlands, and coincidently that’s where Rivera will make her next race outing at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. It’s a far cry from Tustin, California, where Rivera comes from. The transition from the US to a European heartland can jolt even the most talented of riders but Rivera’s determination and dedication has seen her sail through her opening few months as a full time pro at the WorldTour level.

After a couple of respectable but not earthshattering results Rivera took fourth in Drentse Acht van Westerveld, a 1.2 UCI ranked race with a world class field. However, it was at the next outing that she won her first WorldTour event, sprinting home to take the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. A week later she was third in Gent-Wevelgem before the crowning moment at the Tour of Flanders when she fought her way back to win the sprint. The victory put her alongside some of the greats in women’s cycling – Judith Arndt and Marianne Vos, to name two – and she became the first American to win the race in its history.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” she tells Cyclingnews from her base in Limburg.

“I didn’t walk into the season thinking that I wanted to win Binda and Flanders. I just came into my first season on a European team wanting to learn. It’s been astonishing and it’s still hard to wrap my mind around the Flanders win.

“It’s not been easy but nothing worth having is. I had to fight right to the line in Binda, because it was slightly uphill and at Flanders I had to come around Anna Van Der Breggen. It wasn’t a straight leadout and I had to surf a little bit. Plus, I had to chase back on after the Kwaremont. In Binda, with all those climbs, it was also a really big challenge.”

Rivera came through the American racing system at a young age and rose through the ranks before racing domestically for the UnitedHealthcare team. For many fans she was seen as the archetypal sprinter – small, agile, quick as a bullet, and most importantly, fearless. Even when she departed for European racing, while on smaller teams, and for shorter stints during her early career, Rivera would be cast as the bunch sprinter.

“Back in my American Criterium days I was always pigeonholed as ‘just a sprinter’,” she says. “But I’ve progressed as an athlete, made the steps to become a better climber and improved my power. I’ve always called myself a bike racer, and whatever I’ve needed to do to cross the line first, I’m going to do it. Sprinting is a strength of mine, sure, but I look at myself as a complete bike racer.”

Coryn Rivera can't believe she's won the Tour of Flanders

In it for the long haul

Despite the recent success in Europe, the completeness in Rivera’s cycling arsenal has not come about overnight. She has had to work on weaknesses, pay her dues as a domestique in several races, and essentially learn her craft both at home in the US, and now in Europe. What’s carried her through has been her resilience.

“I’ve had these little steps in the last few years in order to race here full time. I’ve wanted that since I was a kid and can remember watching the Tour de France as a kid and thinking, how cool would that be – to on a European pro team, where the standard is so high.

“I like a challenge and they’ve all been different. I’ve progressed from juniors, then come through collegiate racing to tearing up the domestic scene. I won the US Criterium, and then had two second places in the road races. It’s been a slow build and I’ve continued to try and challenge myself with the dream of being a pro in Europe.”

All the while Rivera has picked up a degree, an element she had to combine with racing.

“I had to finish an online exam the night before Worlds in Richmond,” she admits. “I left it a little later than I probably should have but the next morning I raced Richmond and made it into the main break. I don’t know if the whole team knew I was doing the exam but my roommate, Evie Stevens did.

“It was important for me to go to school. Not just as a back-up plan and something to fall back on, but to have that normal college experience. We don’t make as much as the men and I’m not making millions of dollars. I know that cycling won’t last forever and it can be over at any moment. One bad crash, and that’s it. I know at some point I’ll get into real life.”

That point is unlikely to arrive for some time, and although she only has a one-year deal with Team Sunweb at present, Rivera has every intention of sticking around in Europe. On the immediate horizon are Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne, while the Tour of California is only a matter of weeks away.

“In terms of goals, nothing has changed. For each race we’ve gone in there thinking ‘how as a team are we going to win this?’ and ‘how can we play off each rider’s strengths.” Our team’s strength is being able to adapt.”

Adapt, learn and now conquer. Rivera is taking everything in her stride, but don’t call her ‘just’ a sprinter.

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