Sixty-eight and counting. That’s the number of national cycling titles Coryn Rivera has won so far—and she’s only 22. The Indianapolis-based pro won her first championship a decade ago, in a field that included boys. Since then, she’s been an equal-opportunity powerhouse, crushing men and women on the road, track, and in cyclocross. Rising to the top while women’s cycling gains international recognition and sponsorship, Rivera is poised to become a household name.
Rivera caught the cycling bug from her father, an avid cyclist, who put her on his tandem and took her along for group rides out of their hometown of Tustin, California. Once she was big enough to ride, she got her own bike. “We loved riding, but we didn’t know anything about racing,” she says. “In 2004, there was a kids race at the Redlands Classic, one lap of the criterium course. I entered it and won. The next year, I won it again, and I told my dad that I couldn’t wait another year to race again, and that’s how I got into racing as a junior.”
In her first junior race, Rivera finished second to one boy, her first loss. “I started crying,” she says. “I hated losing, and the next race I entered I made sure to beat all the boys.” Her competitive instinct—and her results—allowed her to turn pro at 16 and earned her a cycling scholarship to Marian University in Indianapolis, across the street from the Major Taylor Velodrome. (USA Cycling, not the NCAA, oversees collegiate cycling, so there are no regulations against pros competing for college teams.)
After wrapping up the collegiate cycling season in 2014, she earned a spot on the new UnitedHealthcare squad, a team stacked with talented riders including 2010 and 2013 Giro d’Italia Femminile champ, Mara Abbott, and 2012 Olympic silver medalist, Lauren Tamayo.
Rivera quickly proved she deserved her spot on the team, winning the Professional Criterium National Championship, placing sixth in the inaugural women’s Tour de France spectacle, La Course, and collecting 10 wins along the way. “My favorite win of the year, though, was when we swept the podium at the last race of the Gateway Cup in St. Louis in August,” she says. “It was a perfect sprint, absolutely everything went our way. I didn’t even notice where I finished (second), and I didn’t care.”
Rivera does care about winning in 2015, though. She’s locked her sights on qualifying for the national team again at the Pro Road Nationals in Greenville, South Carolina, then making it to the World Cycling Championships, to be held in Richmond, Virginia, next September. “I raced the course in May for collegiate nationals and won there,” she says. “I feel like I have an advantage. And come on, when are Worlds going to be held in our country again? It’s a big deal.”
Between now and Worlds, Rivera will finish her last semester at Marian and pile on training time at the school’s indoor-training facility (“We call it the ‘wattage cottage’”) before rejoining her UnitedHealthcare teammates for a slew of UCI and Continental races. She’ll race at the Tour of California in May, participate in the UCI-ranked Philly Cycling Classic in early summer, head to Europe to race in La Course, and the Vuelta in Spain, among other top UCI-level races.
“There’s been a slow progression in women’s cycling, and it’s getting better. But I still have to rely on winning prize money to make a living,” she says, as opposed to living on a team salary. “Fortunately, I win a lot."
Rivera’s One-Step Guide to Becoming a Champion
In this age of the quantified cyclist who tracks watts, heartrate, rpms, speed, calories and more, Rivera has a decidedly old-school method to understanding what’s best for her performance:
“Go with your instincts,” she says. “Whether it be racing or training, you have to feel the moment’s right when you start your sprint to the finish line and go. Don’t think about it, or wait, just go if you gut says ‘go.’ Trusting your instinct works the other way as well: if you’re starting to feel sick or don’t have it in you to go hard one day, back down on the intensity or the number of intervals. If you’re feeling good, go ahead and push yourself a little harder than your workout says you should. Always trust your instincts on what to do.”