WWT leader Rivera no longer the underdog

Coryn Rivera takes over the WWT lead after historic Flanders win, and she might have a chance to shine at Amstel Gold Race as well.

Coryn Rivera sprinted her way into the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey, winning a tactical edition of Tour of Flanders April 2. “I’m really honored to wear the jersey,” Rivera said. “That wasn’t a goal going into the season.” Thanks to lots of hard work in 2016 and a new team, the Dutch Sunweb outfit, she rolls into Sunday’s first-ever women’s Amstel Gold Race as one of the top favorites, when only a year prior she was still hunting for her first Women’s WorldTour (WWT) win.

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Rivera leads her Sunweb team into Ardennes week that includes new women’s editions of Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well as La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, which holds its 10th edition Wednesday. “It is really exciting to have the opportunity to race these big, historic races alongside the men,” Rivera said, “to make a mark in history racing the first Amstel Gold women’s race.”

Sunweb is extra-motivated for Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race because it is essentially a home race for the Limburg-based team. “Amstel is actually like a backyard race for us,” Rivera said. “We train on most of the [course] so that will be really cool.” The race suits the young sprinter who honed her climbing abilities in pursuit of an Olympic berth last year. “I’m always trying to push myself and be better,” she said. “Obviously sprinting is my strength but while I’m not a purist climber, I’ve shown I can hang in there and be there for the finish.”

While her Olympic dream didn’t materialize, Rivera pushed forward, rounding out her strengths that are shining through this season. “All the work you put in the year before comes into play the next year,” she said. “Putting it in the bank, investing that time, then you get a return the next year. It’s definitely showing, the hard work that Ben and I have done — Ben Sharp was my coach the last three years; now I’m with a team coach from Sunweb. We put a lot of hard work in, and it has definitely been showing.”

Rivera’s first WWT win came from a sprint at Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier this spring, and she followed it up with another impressive sprint victory at Flanders after her team chased down a dangerous late breakaway. Now, Rivera is no longer an underdog on the European race scene. But even with the WWT leader’s jersey target on her back, the lighthearted and relaxed Rivera doesn’t feel extra pressure or expectations. “I’m really stoked to represent the jersey for the team and girls, but I don’t think anything will change, at least in my mind,” she said. “We’ll just keep going into each race as we have, to win … and use our strengths together as a team. But for me, it doesn’t change anything at all.”

A strong result at Amstel Gold this weekend would keep the 24-year-old in the leader’s jersey for Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. But Rivera plans on skipping Liège April 23, potentially leaving the jersey up for grabs. Canyon-SRAM’s Elena Cecchini and Orica-Scott’s Annemiek Van Vleuten are ranked second and third, respectively going into Amstel.

But the laid-back Californian is less concerned about her length of time in the jersey as she is about the jersey itself. Joking about the bright magenta color and design, Rivera laughed, saying, “Well I definitely won’t match or look like my teammates, so I’m a little bummed about that point.” Matching or not, Team Sunweb looks to win its third WWT race of the season this Sunday, with a purple-clad Rivera leading the way.