Coryn Rivera sets a blistering pace

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Eight years ago, at the age of 10, Coryn Rivera spent considerable time on the back of a tandem bicycle pedaling around Southern California.

With her father piloting the bike, Rivera rode for fun as part of a family team that competed in endurance events, including 100-milers.

But by age 11, when she was big enough for her own race bike, Rivera got a racing license and her cycling path changed forever. Rivera finished second in a 2004 event as the only girl in a one-lap boys' race. There were no other young girls to compete against, so she began seeking out events where there were other females.

Rivera began winning junior girls' races, and a reputation as a strong rider. Regional and national triumphs followed quickly.

One season removed from a junior career that included 32 national titles in road, track and cyclocross racing, the much-touted Rivera is finding her way toward the front as a rider for Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12, one of the best pro teams in the U.S.

Despite being half the age (and nearly have the size) of some of her competitors and teammates, including reigning Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, Rivera has shown little intimidation.

While just 5-foot-2 and 105 pounds -- particularly small for a sprinting specialist -- Rivera is faring well against cycling's best, including German legend Ina Teutenberg. Considered cycling's best woman sprinter, Teutenberg has won nearly 100 races in the past four years.

"I've come close to Ina every once in a while," said Rivera, confident but aware that she's still learning in the women's pro peloton. "It just comes to me that I'm there [at the front of the field]. I don't have to think about it. I'm small, but it's harder for people to follow me because I can fit into gaps where it's difficult for others. I maneuver really well in the pack. Instead of finding my way around, I 'squirrel' my way through."

To teammates and cycling insiders, Rivera's talent involves more than her opportunistic ways and her ability to find the right position for a sprint at the end of a race.

Jim Miller, director of athletics for USA Cycling, the sport's governing body, sees Rivera as the prototype of a new kind of professional.

"She's cut from a different cloth than most elite American women cyclists," Miller said. "Coryn is ushering in a new and a very talented generation of young American women. From my point of view, Coryn is beyond her years in regards to tactics and skill set. She has a great feel for race dynamics and has always set high personal expectations.

"She is a punchy, explosive rider, but her real attribute is she has a lot of natural speed. Where most American women are stage racers or time trialists, Coryn I believe will one day develop into one of the world's elite sprinters."

The heavily recruited Rivera admits her progression in the pro ranks has been more tumultuous than expected.

Four months into her first elite season, she's already suffered -- and recovered -- from the hardest fall of her career.

During the Tour of Qatar on Feb. 4, Rivera crashed with about 800 meters left in Stage 3 after two riders ahead of her tangled and also crashed. Rivera suffered a concussion, abrasions and road rash. Because physicians were unsure of the severity of her head injury, she wasn't allowed to travel home with her teammates.

Rivera remained in the hospital for two days, mostly sleeping. She remembers little of the accident, with the exception of viewing blue sky and a wavering palm tree. Shortly after her recovery from the crash, she got the flu, and her improvement was furthered delayed.

"I'm off to a rough start [this season]," Rivera said minutes after finishing third in the criterium at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, where she placed 12th overall in a four-day stage race that ended April 17.

"I know the season is just starting, but I'm taking it step by step. I'm supposed to be racing Europe right now. But I passed on that trip, because I felt I wasn't ready for it."

Rivera's teammate Armstrong, a two-time world time trial titlist and the lead rider on Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12, is seeking to gain an Olympic team position in her comeback to cycling following the birth of her son. But Armstrong, 37, also mentors her younger teammates, particularly Rivera.

Like others, Armstrong views Rivera as a veteran rider despite her youth and professional inexperience.

"Coryn has been racing since a very young age," Armstrong explained. "She began her career on the track (or velodrome). To be a good sprinter you must be able to handle your bike in fast, tight and stressful conditions. The track is a great environment to teach you these skills. Yes, she may be small, but she is quick."

Armstrong, a surprise late entrant at the Sea Otter Classic, dominated the women's stage race en route to the overall title. Rivera was at the front in the final stretch of the criterium and looked like she was on her way to her first title until Armstrong powered past her just before the line for the win.

With other teammates, Rivera and Armstrong huddled near the finish line after a quick recovery. Armstrong, the team elder, told the others how well they had ridden and then said of her young teammate, "Coryn is a star both on and off the bike. She is a team player. Whatever her role may be in a race, she gives 100 percent. Whether she is asked to sprint to win or asked to work on the front, she takes her job seriously. She is very mature for her age and she is one to watch in coming years."

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