Q&A with Coryn Rivera: Legendary Win Built on Years of Development


by Mary Topping
Photo © Tim De Waele
Photo © Tim De Waele
It’s an historic result for American cycling and the 105-year-old event, but Coryn Rivera’s coup as the first American of either gender to win the Tour of Flanders was memorable for yet another reason. It marked the fulfillment of dedication and hard work across 14 years of competitive cycling in multiple disciplines.
Now 24, she began racing in 2004 at age 11. Since then she hasn’t missed a year of pinning on numbers. After progressing through junior and adult categories, she took on collegiate and professional racing while completing a bachelor’s degree in business marketing with a concentration in entrepreneurship from Marian University. Over that time she stretched her attention across road, cyclocross, track and mountain bike racing, gathering skills and over 70 national championship titles along the way.
She became a powerhouse on the American scene while training and competing in Europe with USA Cycling’s development programs, winning among others the overall in the Joe Martin Stage Race, many prestigious criteriums, and a Tour of Utah Women’s Edition.   
International successes included stages at Tour de San Luis in Argentina and Germany’s Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt. Then in March of this year she won her first Women’s WorldTour event, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, in Italy.
All of these experiences came together at the finish line in Oudenaarde after 153 kilometers of effort up and down the storied cobbled climbs of Flanders. The interview below was conducted one week after that victory. It covers that legendary moment and the spring season, the contributions of USA Cycling and different cycling disciplines to her development, and comments on the near and long term future.
Question: Take us through your spring campaign to date, and how it compares with prior spring seasons.
Coryn Rivera: It is my first year doing a full spring campaign. Over the past two years I have slowly incorporated more and more European spring races. Two years ago was my debut in the spring classics with Ina and the USA National Team. Based out of Sittard in the Netherlands, I raced the European spring classics from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad through Ronde van Drenthe. Last year with UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, I raced from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad through Tour of Flanders.  
This season with Team Sunweb, also based out of Sittard for the spring, I have started my season with Omloop van het Hageland, which is the day after Het Nieuwsblad, and have been racing pretty much every weekend since then. And I have been learning and improving each race. In Hageland I got tangled up in a small crash, then was in the main break of the day but didn’t save enough for the sprint. At Strade Bianche I was in another crash that took a long time to get back on the bike, but I was still able to chase back onto the main group. At the Drenthe Women’s WorldTour, I was a support rider and was able to help teammate Lucinda Brand to a 3rd place finish. The next day at Drentse Acht van Westerveld, I changed into a sprinter role and was able to sprint to a 4th place thanks to the hard work of the girls. At Trofeo Alfredo Binda, I got my first big win in a sprint but I still had to get over the climbs and I was always in a position to win as I also bridged to a couple of breaks over the tops of the climbs. At Gent-Wevelgem I was able to prove that last week was not a joke with a 3rd-place finish in a bunch sprint, showing I was able to sprint in different kinds of races. Then last weekend at Flanders I surprised myself and a lot of other people with the victory as the first American to ever win Flanders, male or female. But it is such a hard race and there was no way I would have been able to win on my own—it was truly a team effort that day.
So overall, progression has been the name of the game in both big-picture and yearly outlooks. I’ve slowly added more and more spring classics into my schedule over the last three years. And for the year I have learned from every race and have progressed from weekend to weekend. 
Q: Congratulations on the Tour of Flanders win. What it’s like to be the first American to win this race, counting both women’s and men’s editions?
CR: It is pretty incredible, and actually still hard to wrap my head around to this day. It is an absolute dream and I feel like I’m still dreaming! But I don’t think I was going into the year thinking I wanted to win Flanders or thinking ‘wow, there isn’t an American winner yet, I should win Flanders so that I could get that title’. But it is truly an honor to be the first American male or female to win the Tour of Flanders. I stood on the top of the podium with pride watching our American flag wave under the Belgian breeze, my hand over my heart, and singing along to the Star-Spangled Banner. There is no better feeling.
Q:  Flanders has made you a cycling legend at such a young age. Is that a heavy or a light crown, and what’s your reaction to being looked up to by so many young women and men too? 
CR: Haha, I don’t want to look at it like a crown. Sure I may have won Flanders and I made it into the history books, but there will always be another race and another winner. It’s cool to be looked up to by the youngins because I used to be one of them. I can relate to them and have been in their shoes and have an idea of what they are looking for in a role model. And hopefully that is what I can be for them!
Q: Would you say that win represents a breakthrough for American racing in Europe? As such, what kind of doors can it open, especially for younger women riders? 
CR: I think maybe the win is a breakthrough for the younger generation of Americans racing in Europe, but there have been Americans before me that somewhat paved the way or made a mark on racing in Europe.
But I think I am from a younger generation that has found cycling at a young age and raced as a junior and took it through collegiate racing, progressing through development rather than emerging as a talent-wonder. So I think it shows to younger women riders that if you work hard in cycling, you can create a lot of opportunities that continue to help you progress as a person and as a rider. 
Q: What role has USA Cycling played in helping you to progress to this memorable point in your career? 
CR: USA Cycling has played a big role in my progression since I was a kid. I remember the first Talent ID Camp I attended when I was 13 in Chula Vista, also regional California Talent ID Camps, more camps at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, an opportunity to race in Europe for the first time when I was 17 in Izegem [in West Flanders] and again the following year in Lucca, Italy, two years of junior world championships with two bronze medals, collegiate racing, Elite Pan-Am Championships, Track World Cups, and Elite World Championships.
So in every level of the sport I have gotten support from USA Cycling, and all of those learning experiences add up to what I know now and that is what makes me the rider that I am today.
Q: In what ways did collegiate cycling contribute to your development?
CR: Collegiate cycling is the most fun and memorable level of cycling I have ever experienced. It gave me a moment to grow up and be an adult and learn to make my own decisions. It is great to have everyone on the start line in the same level in the sense that we are all full-time students, so we are doing more than just racing our bikes—we are working to be better people. 
Q: How has riding on the track improved your cycling?
CR: My start came from the road but as I got into the sport more I also got into track, cyclocross, and mountain biking. I always say road is my favorite, ‘cross and mountain biking are where you learn handling, and track is the most helpful.
Leg speed, power, and attentiveness are all things in track cycling that can be transferred to other disciplines. To this day I still train on the velodrome every winter at my home track. There is a great community at the Velo Sports Center in Carson, California and ironically I was part of the first ever race to be held there, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Q: What are your short-term and long-term future objectives?
CR: Short-term is to keep developing as an athlete with a focus on World Championships in Bergen, [Norway]. And long-term, I am looking forward to making my bid for the Tokyo Olympics.
Q: What are your thoughts as you look ahead to Tokyo 2020?
CR: It’s four years away, but from the last Olympic cycle I have learned that it goes by fast. If I continue my current progression, I should be in a good place going into Tokyo. But I think it is also important to grow a team, not just an individual, because it isn’t just one person that represents our country on the line.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This Article Updated April 15, 2017 @ 03:51 PM For more information contact: