Projecting young talent in cycling, as in any sport, is a difficult endeavor. Maturation, both physically and mentally, coaching, sponsorship, and desire can all play an integral part in the development of a cyclist. But sometimes, on those rare occasions, talent can, figuratively, leap off the page and make you take notice.
Coryn Rivera is just such a talent.
Since she began racing competitively, the 17-year-old has earned more junior national titles, 24, on the road, track, and through cyclocross than she has actually celebrated birthdays. Coryn, who packs as much power in her legs as Manny Pacquiao does in his punches, could easily be described as a phenom, but that descriptor actually belies the amount of work and preparation she has put into what has quickly become her passion.
With a seemingly never ending upward trajectory, Coryn’s transition from the junior ranks to the senior women’s circuit will undoubtedly be closely scrutinized. But, if this season was any type of an indicator, the youngest of the Elite PROMAN Hit Squad has already proven that she more than belongs in their company. This past season, she roared to victory in three events, the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, the San Rafael Twilight Criterium, and the Cascade Cycling Classic criterium, her first National Racing Calendar win, despite being saddled by the constraints of junior gearing. These efforts earned her the distinction of being named the Best U23 Woman of the Year by Velonews.
In my conversation with Coryn Rivera, we tackle junior gearing, growing up a Filipino-American, and racing for the US National Team.
Lenny B (LB): When did you officially start racing...when did you know you were good?
Coryn Rivera (CR): My first race was a kid's race in 2003. The next year I did the same race again then started to race more local races. So I officially started racing in 2004. Well I won both the kid's race, but my first real race with a license and rolling out the junior gears was the LA Circuit Race in 2004. I think I knew I was kind of good because I started crying when I beat all but one boy in the junior field [smiles].
LB: You had some big wins this year, is there a favorite among them?
CR: I think my personal favorite was San Rafael Twilight. We had a really good team out there for that race and we were all super aggressive. We all owned that race; attack, after attack, after attack. When it all came together for the final lap, I set up for the sprint and I just so happen to cross the line first! And afterward it was a big celebration for the team. Everyone was just so happy and we all felt like we accomplished something amazing; it was a lot of fun.
LB: For those out there who don't know about the constraints of junior gearing could you please explain the difference? Has is helped/hurt you in certain races/terrain?
CR: 'Junior Gearing' is a USA Cycling rule that restrict juniors to a 52 tooth front chainring and a 14 tooth end cog. Most adults race with a 53 tooth front chainring and an 11 tooth end cog. During NRC criteriums I am usually always in my 52/14. Sometimes I think I won’t be able to hang on, but somehow I end up sticking. The gear is not impossible. The most trouble I have with the gearing is on downhills during longer road races. I have to work SO hard on the downhills just to keep up. I am SO worked from just trying to keep up on the downhill that when it comes to the climbs, I just can’t keep up. But the bottom line about junior gears is that they are a blessing in disguise. I have to spin super fast sometimes during races, but once I get my "big girl" gears and I still spin as fast as I did with junior gearing, I will be that much more faster.
LB: You have ridden for the US National team, most recently in Russia. What was that experience like and what does your future agenda look like with the US National team?
CR: Yes, I was in Russia with the US National Team for the Jr Road and Track World Championships. I don’t think I ever want to go back to Russia ever in my life, [laughs]. We were basically quarantined in our hotel. Then we would have to take a 30-minute bus ride to the road course/velodrome, which were right next to each other. That was the ONLY place we could ride. If we rode on the road we would probably get run over.
The food was almost exactly the same for breakfast/lunch/dinner every day. And as far as the racing went, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.
I just recently came back from the Manchester Track World Cup about 3 weeks ago. That was quite an experience. I qualified for the final in the scratch race and finished 13th in the scratch and Shelley [Olds] finished 3rd! And in the points race qualifier I got crashed out by a Hong Kong chick and was unable to collect enough points to qualify for the final. But there are no plans for the rest of 2009, at least to race with the US National Team, but I am going to US National Team track camps every month for the rest of the year.
LB: What have been your favorite races, places, and/or experiences with the National team so far?
CR: I’d have to say my favorite experience with the national team so far was my month long trip to Belgium. It was the first time ever for USA Cycling to invite junior girls to the national team house in Izegem, Belgium. I was there with Kendall Ryan, Kaitie Antonneau, and Anna Young. We had a lot of fun and success. We did 4 races on the road and spent a weekend of track racing in Apeldoorn, Holland. We worked well together as a team during the races and I learned a ton about the European style of racing. I won 2 races on the road and won the derny race on the track in Apeldoorn.
LB: It is currently your off-season from the road, but you recently raced overseas on the track as well as some cyclocross. What does the rest of your program look like as you prepare for next year?
CR: Right now I am preparing for cyclocross nationals in Bend, Oregon. But I am still using the track as training for cyclocross.
LB: PROMAN is undergoing some major changes for next year. Do you know what your schedule is yet, and are there certain races that you are targeting?
CR: Yup, there are going to be a lot of team changes for next year. At this time, there is no set schedule yet but I am still targeting Junior Road and Track World Championships in Italy during the summer.
LB: You have some great leaders/role models within PROMAN. What is the most important thing you have learned from any/all of them? Is there one person who has been the most influential?
CR: Especially being the youngest person on the team during the really big races, everyone is a role model to me. I have learned a lot from everyone; Shelley Olds, Nicola Cranmer, Rachel Lloyd, Cari Higgins, are just a few that have always been there for me to help me out and teach me the ropes. I think everything they have told me is important, I can’t put my finger on one important thing I have learned from them, they are all important.
LB: What are your strengths as a rider?
CR: I think I have a lot of strengths as a rider. I don’t want to just call myself a sprinter after winning many criteriums this year. I’d say I’m a bicycle racer. I’m still a junior and I’m still developing into the kind of racer I want to be.
LB: You have won national championships on the road, on the track and in cyclocross. Which cycling discipline is your favorite? Which one suits your talents the best?
CR: Road is my favorite cycling discipline. Track is the most helpful cycling discipline. And cyclocross is the fun discipline. I think road racing suits my talents best because it has everything, from climbs to downhills to technical areas.
LB: Road races or criteriums?
CR: Hmm…this is a tough one. Lately, I’ve done well at criteriums, but I do love road racing. I’ll say road races because the criterium is not a world championship event. Road races really push your limits while making you think tactically.
LB: You bring up a good point about tactics, as cycling is as much mental as it is physical. How much of your success has been a product of “out thinking” your opponents rather than just “being the fastest” one out there?
CR: I’m not quite sure exactly how much of my early success has been a product of out smarting my competition, but I’m sure a good amount of my current success has to do with outsmarting my competition. I’ve been very competitive since I was really young, so it has grown with me. I really hate losing, so I try to prepare as much as I can physically and mentally for races.
LB: Mass start races, sprints, or timed events?
CR: Definitely mass start races. It’s not just power that can win the race; you also have to be smart.
LB: A recent photo of you with Shelley Olds was captioned “PROMAN Hit Squad's 5-foot assassins.” Does being of smaller stature help you in mass start races, or conversely, as a smaller rider, do you take a beating in the pack?
CR: I’d say being a 5-foot assassin has the best of both worlds. I am able to squeeze through some gaps and spaces that most other riders couldn’t. Plus, I can get a draft off of pretty much everyone, but not everyone can draft off of me. But that can also work in a bad way because sometimes people do not want to get into a breakaway with a smaller rider because they can’t get a draft off of us. When I was in Manchester for the World Cup, I remember a Czech rider trying to fight me for a wheel and her thigh hit my shoulder. It could have potentially been dangerous, but I held my ground. Overall I think being smaller is more beneficial in the peloton.
LB: What are your future aspirations, both on and off the bike?
CR: In the future I’d like to develop into a world class female cyclist. I’d like to race in Europe and ultimately race in the Olympics. Off the bike, I plan to continue school, I don’t know where yet, but it is in the works. I’m thinking of studying business and/or graphic design.
LB: Are you looking into schools that have accomplished cycling programs, or do you plan on racing for PROMAN during school?
CR: I am not quite sure at the moment, but I will probably race for both. For collegiate racing I would race for my school and for regular category racing I’d race for PROMAN.
LB: There aren’t that many Asian/Pacific Islanders in the professional peloton. In fact, this year was the first time an Asian rider finished the Tour de France in its 106 year history. How did you get your start? Is there anyone in your family that races? Do you have any cycling role models?
CR: My dad got me started on the bike. When I was still playing soccer, my dad and I used to go mountain biking at a local trail and I would be on a heavy mountain bike my dad bought me from Costco. Then I got upgraded to the back of the tandem and that was how I got exposed to road riding. Eventually I got my own road bike. Next thing I know, my dad signed me up for a kid’s race and everything evolved from there. Nobody races road in my family, but my dad used to race motocross and downhill.
Kristin Armstrong is an awesome cycling role model. I’d say the Olympics are the pinnacle for female cyclists, and she achieved that goal. It’s so great to see that everything she did to prepare for Olympics paid off.
LB: You have had great success at such a young age, do you consider yourself a role model?
CR: I personally don’t think so because I am still a junior, I am very young, I learn new things every day, and I am not a perfect cyclist. But sure, if I inspire people and they look up to me, I must be doing something right to be a role model.
LB: What is your favorite Filipino food?
CR: Hmm…I’d have to say Caldereta. I’m not sure if I spelled that right! But I know it tastes good! My mom cooks a lot of Filipino food, they are all really good, but I like Caldereta the best.
LB: Like some other Filipinos born in the States, sadly, I never really learned tagalog. Are you fluent, and here is the typical Filipino question, how often do you get back to the Philippines?
CR: I grew up with my parents speaking me to in tagalog and English or taglish. So I understand tagalong, but I can’t speak it. The last time I was back in the Philippines was when I was about 12, if I remember correctly. My aunts, uncles, and cousins all want me to take a visit, but it seems like I never have time.
LB: Music is a big part of the racing culture, from background music playing at some criteriums to training. What are some of your favorite songs, groups, artists?
CR: Yes, music is a very big part of my life in general. I listen to pretty much everything. If I were to list off who I listen to, it would take forever. But on my warm-up playlist I have: Chris Brown, MGMT, Lil Wayne, DJ Tiesto, Taking Back Sunday, Basshunter, Kevin Rudolf, Fort Minor, Phoenix, Jay-Z, Kings of Leon, LMFAO, Chester French, Donavon Frankenreiter, Armin Van Buuren, Justin Timberlake, Reel Big Fish, Super Mash Bros., The Dream, The Lonely Island… and it goes on and on.
LB: Although a big part of your life is on the bike, what are some things that you enjoy off of it?
CR: When I’m off the bike I try to enjoy that time as much as I can. I am usually caught up hanging out with friends and family, going to the beach, movies, snowboarding etc. Lately I’ve been enjoying painting/designing Oakleys.
Photos: Courtesy Bob Cullinan, CycleTo; Rob Evans