Coryn Rivera unfazed by European success: “Not much has changed for me”

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This spring season, Team Sunweb’s Coryn Rivera has emerged as one of the biggest new stars of the women’s peloton. With over 70 national titles, the 24-year-old American was already a proven star State-side, but as part of her first European team, she sprinted to her two biggest career wins yet –Tour of Flanders and Trofeo Binda –and even enjoyed a stint in the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.

She’s had a busy spring in Europe and for the first time in three months, she gets to enjoy a little bit of family time at home, in California, before continuing her season at the Amgen women’s Tour of California.

But just before jumping on a plane to go home, Rivera agreed to sit down with Ella CyclingTips to talk about her newfound success, her European team and her dream-like performances at the spring classics.

“I’ve been in Europe since February 8. It is a long way from home, but it is sort of, you know, a consequence of the choice,” Rivera said, while enjoying some afternoon sun on a park bench in Amsterdam.

It’s been only two years since she got her first taste of racing in Europe. The youngster had come to gain experience as part of the US national team, never imagining that she’d write two big races to her name just two years later.

“I’ve built up some experience and strength for the last two years. I think the learning curve has been a bit steeper this year,” she said. “But I suppose I’m a quick learner, so I turned that around pretty good!”

“I think the Spring is the biggest and longest campaign away from home. So I’ve been away for three months now. But I have to say, the team’s structure and infrastructure, like having the team house, and at least keeping myself busy racing every week, kind of prevents being homesick.”

“And of course doing well helps too, so you stay motivated.”

Rivera’s had shown plenty of potential  in the previous years, but her success has truly sky-rocketed in 2017, first winning Trofeo Binda and then being the first American ever, male or female, to win the highly regarded Tour of Flanders.

Gracie Elvin Ronde van Vlaanderen

Strength and teamwork paying off

Much of the credit for her performance, Rivera said, should go to her home team.

“I think the team is really well-balanced and we’re doing really well on and off the bike. So I think that’s really important in the way we race and how we approach things. And that just shows in our results. We have really been able to commit to a plan or adjust in certain situations. So I think that shows our strength and teamwork. And not just strengths as individuals,” she said. Rivera was one of five new riders joining Team Sunweb in 2017 and together they have become a serious force to be reckoned with.

Three months into the road season, the black and white squad formerly known as Liv-Plantur has already won five big races and appeared on the podium at four other occasions as well.

Related: Out of the shadows and onto the podium: Meet Team Sunweb’s playmaker Lucinda Brand

But while Rivera has given the team plenty to celebrate, she isn’t the only sprinter on the team. Former Canadian champion Leah Kirchmann transferred from Optum p/b Kelly Benefits to Liv-Plantur in 2016, as Team Sunweb was called then. She’s had a slow start to the season due to injury, but now, Rivera will have to share her finisher duties with Kirchmann and, to an extent, Lucinda Brand too.

“We have a year plan where we have certain roles for certain races. And then we adjust according to form on the day,” Rivera explained. “So Leah is doing the Women’s Tour and I’m not, and then I’m doing Giro and she’s not. We get to have our own chances.”

“But it’s actually cool, we used to go head to head at a lot of races in the States and then now we’re teammates and it’s actually pretty cool because we do know each other really well. To come together and being stronger in Europe is pretty cool.” Despite her stellar performances and newfound success, Rivera remains as cool and level-headed as ever.

Coryn Rivera (USA/Team Sunweb) wins the 14th Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2017

“Not much has changed for me. I kind of just have my own style and I go into every race like it’s a new one,” she said.

“I’m not thinking about anything else or having a target on my back or when I have the Women’s WorldTour jersey on. I like to be able to just reset and, you know, focus on the race, focus on the target and goal for the day. And sometimes I’m not the key rider, I’m supporting Leah or Ellen or Lucinda for the finish. But surely, the wins do give me the confidence that I’m able to race here.”

Giro just another race, Worlds are end-of-season goal

With the European Spring Classics coming to a close, what does the rest of the season look like for Rivera?

“I’m gonna finish the spring with California, that’s my home town race and I’d really like to do well there and finish the spring on a good note. And then Worlds is the end goal for the end of the year.”

So while Giro is on her schedule, it’s not something the American aims for – although the race is supposedly less of a climber’s race this year.

“I’m not sure yet what are goals in the Giro are as a team. But it’s not a huge goal for me, more yeah, just another race on the schedule. But still doing the best I can in the stages.”

“I’ve heard about the courses but I haven’t quite seen it myself. It’s still far from the end of June and I’m not thinking about it quite yet. But we’ll do our best, get some stage wins and yeah – we’ll see what happens.”

Quick-fire round of questions

– Ella CyclingTips: Tell us about the Trofeo Binda incident, where Arlenis Sierra (Astana Women’s Team) posted up alongisde of you to celebrate her second place in the Women’s WorldTour race.

Rivera: “It’s cool – you know, in MTB’ing and cyclocross, it’s really cool to post up for a top three. And for her to be that excited for second, you know, probs for that.”

“Personally, I wouldn’t be excited for second, but that’s just my personal thoughts on it. But I respect the fact that she did, that’s fine. I know she’s really excited, I don’t think she was trying to bash me or anything like that. But yeah, it’s just not traditional in road cycling, so it is a little weird and there are some mixed views on that from everybody. I’m not gonna be mean to her and say ‘Dude why did you do that?!’.”

“I think she did a great job. And actually just pretty cool for her to be so excited about second place.”

– Ella: How does American and European racing differ?

“It’s more like a culture thing. There’s not like a real answer to where the difference is. But yeah, like the way the peloton moves and how small or big the roads are makes a huge difference. And then the Euro’s know how to ride in the wind! There’s differences like that.”

“But the way I always compare it is, racing in Europe has the same aggressiveness as an American crit, but obviously for three hours. So it’s like a constant stress on the mind. It’s constant knowing where to be or if there’s wind coming or if there’s a climb coming. You’re always on. Your mind is always on. Whereas sometimes in American racing you can kind of zone out when there’s not much happening. So it’s a different kind of stress than European racing.”

“There are challenges both ways and they are both different. But I guess you could say that going to Europe is a lot harder than going to the States.”

– Ella: What was it like to have Iris Slappendel on the team last year to guide you in the European races and to have her join you in the American races?

“It was actually really helpful to have her on the team. Clearly the Dutchies know what they’re doing. So it was really nice to have her on the team last year and kind of help me find my path and really figure out the European style racing.”

Giving an example of the fact that going to the States as a European racer has its challenges too, Rivera said of her former teammate: “Iris had a bit of an issue like to figure out the American style of racing, and maybe getting a little bit frustrated why we were doing what we were doing. That’s just kind of how American racing is.”

– Ella: Where do you stay while you are in Europe?

“There’s a team house in Limburg,” said Rivera of Team Sunweb.

“With the national team, they actually had the same house as Sunweb, in the same neighbourhood. So I’ve actually been there before and when I was there this year, it’s nice to have some American neighbours who speak American English, so that was really nice. With UHC we had rented this little castle.”

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