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Riveros rides away from unlucky spring MTB season

By Spencer Powlison • Published
Fernando Riveros rode to third place at Grand Junction Off-Road after a string of bad luck this spring. Photo: Bill Freeman

If bad luck comes in threes, then Fernando Riveros is all set after this spring, having suffered one misfortune after the next.

The Colombian pro mountain biker went into 2018 with high hopes and strong form. A silly crash and a broken arm put his plans in jeopardy, a second crash risked knocking him out for the rest of 2018, and the food poisoning before nationals? That was a cruel twist of fate.

But just like that, his luck turned and he finished third at the Grand Junction Off-Road in mid-May. Things can only get better for Riveros.

In his second year riding for the Construction Zone team, Riveros got off to a strong start in early March, beating multi-discipline star Chris Blevins (Specialized) in the Cactus Cup short track in Arizona. Riveros felt like this season would be one of his best opportunities to earn some major results.

“I’m getting old, and I feel like the chances are getting reduced,” the 30-year-old told VeloNews. “I want to make this year count, results-wise.”

And when it comes to mountain bike results, the race he covets most is the Whiskey Off-Road, the first of the four Epic Rides Series marathon mountain bike events.

“Whiskey 50 for me is like my Tour de France,” he adds. The course’s long, difficult climbs suit him, and he’s had a number of top finishes over the years, his best being fourth in 2015 and 2014.

So, Riveros made a plan to reach peak form head of the 48-mile race in late-April. He would head to the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas, two weeks before Whiskey to work on his speed and endurance. Then he’d go to Sea Otter Classic for one last weekend of intense racing.

However, in late March, all his plans went out the window.

Fernando Riveros
Photo: Bill Freeman

While on a long training ride near his home in Austin, Texas, Riveros stopped by the BMX pump track to mess around. He ended up going over the bars and breaking his humerus head on his left arm. Right away he knew it was broken. But he had to get home.

“I was like 20 miles away from my house,” he said. “I stopped at Walgreens, bought ibuprofen, took five pills of that, two Gatorades, and rode the 20 miles home with the broken shoulder.”

The former junior and under-23 Colombian champion was crushed. His doctor told him he’d need five weeks to recover — he couldn’t ride outdoors until the week of Whiskey.

“I was putting all the eggs in one basket, and it was rough mentally because I knew I could have a good chance of winning that one,” he said.

“I don’t care if that thing is still broken or not, but I’m going to be there,” he remembers saying to his wife, Victoria Wirtz. But she insisted that he not take the risk. “She was like, ‘You’re going to screw yourself for one race,’” he added.

So instead, Riveros set about a plan to stay fit with a bit of indoor riding on Zwift, and Wirtz, who is a chiropractor, did all that she could to help him heal faster.

“I stopped at Walgreens, bought ibuprofen, took five pills of that, two Gatorades, and rode the 20 miles home with the broken shoulder.”
– Fernando Riveros

On the Wednesday before Whiskey, April 25, exactly five weeks after his crash, he got the go-ahead to start the race.

“The doctor even told me, ‘If you crash again you’re out for the season,’” Riveros said.

That warning was ominous foreshadowing. Riveros made it through the sketchy fat tire crit unscathed. He had the finish line in sight in Sunday’s 48-mile backcountry race. The sprint was on for a top-10 result. Then he crashed again, on that same shoulder that had only healed about 70 percent of the way.

Riveros finished 11th, but he was a beaten man, sitting beneath the Construction Zone team tent in the Arizona sun as the race packed up to leave Prescott. He was sure the bone broke again. He wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to when he might ride again.

Sheepishly, Riveros returned to his doctor for an immediate X-ray, the Monday after Whiskey. To his surprise, his bone was OK. There was a small crack, but it was healing.

After a couple days on the trainer, he was off to marathon mountain bike nationals in Arkansas.

This seemed like a shot at redemption for Riveros, who had recently become a U.S. citizen. The rocky, rolling terrain was similar to the trails around Austin.

“I was hoping to get the jersey, first non-resident. I think I would have had a good chance,” he said, referring to his new dual-citizen status.

And then, he was dealt a third blow. Not by a pump track or an all-out sprint finish, but by a turkey sandwich. Food poisoning stopped his bid for a Stars-and-Stripes jersey before it even started.

By now it is probably clear that Riveros doesn’t dwell on setbacks. He pushes on to the next race.

Two weeks after his fruitless trip to Arkansas, Riveros was on the trail at the second Epic Rides Series race, the Grand Junction Off-Road. Although he’d won on this technical, rocky course in 2014, he was only at the 2018 event because his team wanted him there. Expectations were low. The pressure was off.

Sometimes, when a rider loosens his or her grasp a bit, things fall into place. And on that sunny day in late May, Riveros was flying. He stuck with the front group until the decisive Windmill climb. He attacked repeatedly to break up the group, feeling his legs were good.

In the end, he was up against Russell Finsterwald (Clif) in a battle for second place behind Howard Grotts (Specialized). Finsterwald, an excellent technical rider, got away on the last bit of technical trail before the finish in downtown Grand Junction. Riveros hung on to take the last step on the podium.

“I’m so excited I got third after all that s—t that happened to me,” he said. “I can’t ask for anything else. Right now I’m so stoked to get third.”

There’s that number three again. But this time, it was cause for celebration.

His next major race will be the Carson City Off-Road, round three in the Epic Rides Series, in which he is now placed third overall behind Grotts and Finsterwald.

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