Coryn Rivera may have made a name for herself as a rapid finisher on the American criterium scene, but with selection for the Rio 2016 Olympics uppermost in her mind, the UnitedHealthcare rider is determined to demonstrate the full extent of her repertoire.
“I don’t like to pigeonhole myself as a sprinter – I want to be a good bike rider, a racer. I want to add to my arsenal,” Rivera told Cyclingnews at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, and Friday’s final stage was a case in point.
The finale on Doha’s Corniche invariably produces a bunch finish, and one might normally expect a rider like Rivera, fast enough to be in the mix for the win at La Course by Le Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées, to hold fire for the sprint.
Midway through the stage, however, Rivera opted to try her luck off the front of the peloton. The American had hoped for company on her raid, but she was undeterred when chasers Anna Trevisi (Alé Cipollini) and Yixian Pu (China Chongming-Liv) failed to bridge across.
“It was a case of the more the merrier but unfortunately when I went, nobody followed,” Rivera explained. “I brought the pace down a notch or two but I couldn’t wait. I was hoping that the two of them would catch me but it never happened so I just had to put my head down and hope for the best.”
With a shade over three laps of the 5.5-kilometre finishing circuit remaining, Rivera had a lead touching 1:30 over a peloton that appeared to be at something of an impasse, with no one team prepared to take up the reins and chase.
It briefly appeared as though the traditional script for the stage was about to be torn up, only for first Hitec Products, and later Wiggle-High5, to organise the pursuit in earnest. Rivera was finally swept up on the final lap, eventually rolling home a minute after Chloe Hosking (Wiggle-High5) had won the stage.
“When it went up to a minute, I thought I had a pretty good chance and I just tried to keep building and stay steady,” Rivera told Cyclingnews after soft-pedalling back to her team car after the stage. “I just tried my best and tried to prove myself today.”
Indeed, the opening part of Rivera’s 2016 campaign will be all about proving herself, as she seeks to earn one of the four berths on the United States team for the Olympic Games road race on the particularly demanding Rio parcours. Victory on the first day of the Tour de San Luis last month was an early statement of intent.
“The Olympics are the big goal for me so San Luis and Qatar are the start of the build-up to the spring classics and hopefully I can get some good performances there and prove myself ready and capable to be a good teammate and a rider for Rio,” Rivera said.
After completing her degree in business marketing at Marian University in Indianapolis last autumn, Rivera, now in her third year at UnitedHealthcare, can devote herself entirely to professional racing. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in college and I was able to mix a bit of professional racing with it, so I had a pretty well-balanced life. But now going into an Olympic year, it’s really important to be fully focused.”
Rivera took the spring semester off last year and had her first sample of the Spring Classics in the process. She returns to the cobbles this year aiming to put together a string of performances to make her case for Rio.
“I’m looking forward to the Tour of Flanders a lot,” she said. “I really enjoyed Het Nieuwsblad last year and there were some features there that I enjoyed and I was strong in. I know Flanders is pretty similar, though I’ve never done it before, but hopefully I can prove myself there.”
At year’s end, meanwhile, the women’s peloton returns to Qatar for the World Championships road race on a technical circuit that many riders likened to an America-style criterium after sampling it during stage 1 of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. Rivera, the US national criterium champion of 2014, is less convinced by that comparison.
“I can imagine the foreigners would have the perspective that it is like an American criterium but it’s not exactly like that,” Rivera said. “It’s mostly roundabouts and sweeping bends, but I’m pretty good at that, and at positioning and stuff, so I think it could be suited to me as well.”