Words by Nick Bull | Photo by SWpix.com
Coryn Rivera is thankful. Following a year that most of us would choose neither to replay nor repeat, the Team Sunweb rider remains incredibly upbeat.
“I’m really happy to be home in California right now, everybody I know seems to be healthy and I even managed to see my godmother from a distance during a ride yesterday,” she explained. “I’m relaxed and I’m enjoying not having to live out of a suitcase for the next few weeks.”
The 28-year-old American could be forgiven for voicing her grievances with the past 12 months. Any male rider who completed this year’s Vuelta (17 stages) had more racing days in 2020 than Rivera (16). “Even then, those 16 days are more than some in the women’s peloton,” she says, gratefully. “Next year will feel a bit like a 2020 all over again, especially with the [Olympic] Games being moved back. After my ups and downs, doing a real good Giro in September has set me up nicely for 2021.”
Masked somewhat by her result at Het Nieuwsblad (34th) on the final day of February, the only time she pinned on a number in 2020 prior to the start of August, Rivera believes that her form was on course for a strong spring campaign. “I was riding really well and my training was good at the start of March. And then everything stopped. Within a couple of weeks I was back home in California, trying to keep my motivation and focus at a time when nobody knew if there was going to be any kind of season. This became the story of the year for me: up and down, up and down, up and down. Each time I was getting good something happened.”
She suffered from allergies then concussion sustained in a training crash after Strade Bianche ruled her out of GP Plouay (where she finished second in 2019 and third in 2018) and La Course. A stomach bug put paid to any chance of ending the season on a high; nonetheless, despite still suffering from it during the Tour of Flanders (a race she won three years ago), she attacked and bridged to the day’s breakaway on the Berendries climb as part of a tactic that ultimately didn’t pay off.
Her best result was a pair of fourth-place finish on back-to-back Giro sprint stages, both of which were won by Marianne Vos. She said: “It was interesting to see how everybody tried to make the most of the racing that we had. I feel pretty fortunate to have had 16 days of racing – I can make use of them – and I know that I kept fighting through everything. It was just unfortunate that it was marred with bad luck. I feel that I learn more from the difficult years so if the calendar changes again in 2021 I’ll know how to stay hopeful when things get hard.”
Now over a month into her training, Rivera has been unaffected by the strict lockdown rules imposed across most of California. There was no lost off-season holiday, she explains, as that’s not her style. “When I come home at the end of the season that itself feels like vacation for me,” Rivera said. “I never feel like I’ve got to go away again when I come home. I think I’ve gone on vacation once in all the times that I’ve come back from Europe. I’m really to be home and being able to relax.”
For Rivera and fiancé Nate, a welcome distraction has come in the form of their “Adventuremobile”, a Sprinter van they’re converting into something more practical to go travelling in post-pandemic. “I’m the kind of person who likes to build IKEA furniture,” she admitted. “By the end of this I’ll be close to a certified electrician.”
Undeniably the team of the Tour de France and GC animators at the Giro d’Italia, Team Sunweb’s entire operation is even more savvy than we may have first thought. There was a reason why their evolution into Team DSM for 2021 did not leak out before the official partnership announcement on 4 December. “The upper echelons of the team kept it under wraps really well – we didn’t know about it until the day before,” said Rivera.
The Dutch company, whose morphing from a coal mining company to a technology, health and materials specialist should be INEOS’ blueprint for change, could be the most useful title sponsor in both the men’s and women’s peloton. DSM say that they will collaborate with both Bioracer and Sanas to further develop the team’s clothing and nutrition programme in 2021; it genuinely appears that this may not just be PR-speak, either. Rivera said: “They’re a great company to be partnered with and it’s huge for them to step up given the year Sunweb [a package holiday specialist] have had. DSM are entwined with almost all parts of our team, so the transition will be smooth. It was great news to hear when we all got told.”
SD Worx (the rebranded Boels Dolmans team), Canyon SRAM, Movistar and Trek will likely draw the most attention in 2021, but DSM’s 12-rider women’s roster isn’t short of talent. Sprinter Lorena Wiebes, who switched from Parkhotel Valkenburg mid-season, contributed three wins in her nine racing days post-lockdown for her new team. German talent Liane Lippert finished fifth, eighth and 10th at the worlds, Flèche Wallonne and Liége-Bastogne-Liège respectively in the space of eight days, while Floortje Mackaij is a sleeper for a big victory next year.
Rivera will also be joined on the team by fellow Californian Megan Jastrab next year. Jastrab, who turns 19 in January, has already won junior world titles on the track (in the Madison and omnium) and the road (she won a small bunch sprint to triumph in Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 2019). “It’s really exciting for everybody, but especially the future of American cycling,” said Rivera. “I’m really looking forward to it. There’s something about American culture – the jokes and the things we talk about – that will make having Megan on the team a lot of fun.”
British fans may best know Rivera for her win in the 2018 Women’s Tour, a performance that owed a lot to Sunweb’s pre-race planning. “We knew that the race normally came down to the bonus seconds, so from stage one we targeted the intermediate sprints,” she recalls. Rivera beat Vos by 11 seconds and Dani Rowe by nearly half a minute despite only putting two seconds into British rider Rowe on the road during the race’s five stages. Despite her assured performance – she never looked flustered up against WaowDeals (Vos and Rowe’s team at the time) et al. on the moderately challenging stage in Wales that ended the race – one-day races will continue to remain her main focus in 2021 and beyond.
“GC is and was never really a goal of mine,” she explained. “Time trials aren’t my greatest strength, so that rules out a lot of the stage races for me. Winning the Women’s Tour was an interesting feeling – it’s definitely different to winning a stage or a one-day [race]. Of course a lot of hard work went into it, and there was still the same feeling of elation and joy, but there’s something different winning a one-day.
“Going for GC is a long-game; you think about the big picture all the time. It’s a more of a narrative, a book with chapters – you can lose time here, you can gain time there. One day races are short stories. I love the all-in, all or nothing mentality you get with them.”
Rivera’s abilities when it comes to the early-season one-day events on the Women’s WorldTour are somewhat underappreciated. The mid-March to mid-April classics period in 2021, provided that the races go ahead as planned, comprises races she won previously – Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Tour of Flanders – and those in which she has placed in the top 10 – Gent Wevelgem, Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne. (Rivera also finished sixth in the Ronde van Drenthe two years ago; scheduled for 14 March, the organisers are seeking an October race date to guarantee its running next year). “They’re the races that I really love to do, the races I love doing the most,” Rivera said. “I know that I’ve not reached my top shape over the past seasons so that’s the big objective for me in 2021. I know that I can be there at the finishes in those races.”
A strong spring campaign should also finalise her place on the American team for Tokyo. Rivera was named on her country’s long list earlier in 2020 and while the race, with its near 2,700 metres of climbing, may not appear to be suited to her, she was in the running for a medal at the hilly Innsbruck worlds two years ago inside of 20 kilometres to the finish.
Rivera is only 18 racing days removed from her last victories – back-to-back stages of the Lotto Belgium Tour in September 2019 – but they must feel like a lifetime ago. Bike rider wanting to win bike race isn’t exactly a revelation, but I get where she is coming from when she says that a victory “of any kind” early on next season would be welcome.
“It all depends on how the year goes,” she added, reiterating her refreshing glass half-full mentality. “I’ve learned over the years that you can have goals but most of the time there’s something that makes you adjust. It’s about being flexible and making the most of the chances when you hit that period where you’re going really well.”
If you’ve enjoyed this, why not try La Course en Tête’s review of the 2020 season,
Racing in the Time of Covid, which is on sale here.