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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.
A few stats on the best female sprinter in North America: She’s 5-foot-1, and weighs 105 pounds. She was born in 1992, and has been racing for 11 years. She is the holder of an astonishing 68 U.S. national titles across road, track, and cyclocross. And, in 2014, she won 10 races in North America, riding for UnitedHealthcare, including the national criterium championship.
Coryn Rivera, 22, is a pint-sized sprinter who packs a colossal finishing kick. In her first season with the new UHC women’s team, the highly lauded Southern California native came into her own, winning the Sunny King Criterium, Tulsa Tough, Gateway Cup, Boston Mayor’s Cup, and the Tour of Utah. She also finished second at the Amgen Tour of California’s criterium, in Sacramento, and sixth at La Course by Le Tour de France, in Paris. On one of the strongest women’s teams in the world, Rivera more than held her own — she punched her way to the front.
“Most of that success I have to credit to the team, and not only the riders and my teammates, but also the staff, the entire organization,” Rivera said. “We would show up to the race, and all we have to worry about is the racing, nothing else. I had never felt like that, this was my first time on a true professional team, and it was nice that they take care of the girls just like they take care of the guys.”
In a sense, Rivera’s 2014 season was the validation of potential that’s been recognized for years as she began collecting national titles across junior categories, seemingly uncontested. A heavy crash, and concussion, at the 2011 Tour of Qatar nearly sidelined Rivera’s pro career before it got started. She lost memory for hours, and suffered issues with short-term memory and reading comprehension. After meandering through the rest of the 2011 season, Rivera took an eight-month break from racing, eventually returning to competition with her Marian University collegiate squad in Indianapolis.
But a strong showing at the 2012 collegiate national road championships in Ogden, Utah — she was second in the criterium, and sixth in the road race — brought the passion back. In 2013, Rivera won the national collegiate criterium title; she defended that title this year, in Richmond, Virginia, and also won the national road race. Collegiate races are just part of the picture for Rivera, who graduates in May with a degree in marketing.
After spending the summer of 2013 bouncing around Europe with a small British squad, Rivera got a call from UHC director Mike Tamayo on the Fourth of July, while she was holed up in a small hotel in the Czech Republic. Tamayo had seen her return to form — she’d won the 2013 Sunny King Criterium, more or less without a team, and finished fifth at the Sparkassen Giro — and he invited her to join the new-for-2014 UnitedHealthcare squad, which would also feature American stars like Alison Powers, Mara Abbott, and Lauren Tamayo.
Rivera was chosen as one of the team’s two sprinters, along with British rider Hannah Barnes, who had enjoyed a stellar 2013 season in the UK. Both women succeeded in 2014, with the two riders swapping victories at several races.
Asked which victories were most meaningful in 2014, Rivera’s answers might come as a surprise. Her first response is not one of her own wins, but when the UHC team swept the podium on the final day of the Gateway Cup, in St. Louis, in early September; Rivera finished second, behind Barnes, and ahead of teammate Cari Higgins.
“It was the first time the UHC [women’s] team had swept the podium,” Rivera said. “All year we had tried to sweep the podium, the UHC guys were doing it throughout the season, and there was always a friendly competition. We had been preparing our sprint lead-out for crit nationals, and on the first three days I took the win. Then, on the last day, it was like, ‘What can we do better? We can better our wins.’ We went for the sweep, and when we found out that Cari got third, that was the most exciting moment of the entire season.”
As for her own results, Rivera points to her win at the Sunny King Criterium, in April, as one of the highlights of this season. She also noted that her 2013 win there, when she was still returning to the sport, and wearing a Marian University kit, was one of the most meaningful in her career. When she returned and won again, in UHC colors, it offered confirmation that her career was back on track.
On the horizon, Rivera’s goals are clearly defined — she wants to ride in Team USA colors, at the Richmond world road championships, in 2015, and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio di Janiero, Brazil.
“I’ve raced in Richmond, I know the course, I’ve won on it before,” Rivera said. “I also know it will be really hard. I finish school on May 9, and it will be a tough dash to make the team after that.”
However, if there’s one thing Rivera has proven, she’s capable of executing a tough dash to the line.
Daniel Holloway (Athlete Octane Cycling) may not have always beaten riders of the UnitedHealthcare “Blue Train,” but he was always the most likely to upset their podium raids.
No single rider on UHC’s Pro Continental “crit squad” shines brighter than the others, as they seemingly choose at random who amongst them will be the victor. That is, unless Holloway has anything to say about it. He was the single most dominant sprinter of the year, and he didn’t need a professional team to earn that accolade.
At the Tulsa Tough Blue Dome criterium, Holloway took a flyer inside 10 laps to go, just to make UHC sweat. He still finished third to two members of the UHC train.
In 2010, Holloway won the professional criterium national championship. This year he won the elite criterium national championship, opening up his sprint earlier than anyone might have predicted, and had nearly the entire finishing straight for his celebration. Then, he took third place at professional crit nationals two months later, coming just short of sweeping the pair of titles, something that has never been done.
In total, Holloway won 21 races, finishing in the top 10 on 52 occasions, in 64 days of racing. He’s the number-one ranked criterium racer in the U.S., even besting the ubiquitous members of UnitedHealthcare.