American cyclist Coryn Rivera long ago established her credentials on home soil, winning so many national championships in so many disciplines that she sometimes lost track of the total.
It stands at more than 70, by the way.
But when she switched to Team Sunweb this season, and embarked on a campaign that will have her racing largely in Europe, Rivera was back to being a relative underdog. And that lasted, oh, about two weeks, when she captured the first of her two Women’s WorldTour victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Now, after adding a win at the prestigious Tour of Flanders, Rivera will be among the favorites when she returns home for the Tour of California starting Thursday in South Lake Tahoe. The 24-year-old grew up in Southern California.
“With Coryn, we have a rider that likes an uphill finish and the first stage really suits her strengths,” Team Sunweb coach Hans Timmermans said. “For the final two stages we can expect a bunch sprint and while riding on home soil, Coryn is eager to perform here.”
The four-stage women’s race concludes Sunday with a technical criterium in Sacramento, which will be run in conjunction with the opening stage of the seven-stage men’s race.
Rivera certainly has her hands full with a star-studded women’s race.
The powerful Boels-Dolmans team is bringing the defending champion, Megan Guarnier, and Olympic gold medalist Anna van der Breggen. UnitedHealthcare has Katie Hall and Ruth Winder in the mix, while American standout Lauren Stephens leads Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank.
There will be less star power than usual in the men’s race.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish is out after he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, putting his Tour de France in question. French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni is likewise sidelined by the effects of a concussion, while Colombian sensation Miguel Angel Lopez remains out with a fractured tibia.
All that should make life easier for Katusha-Alpecin sprinter Alexander Kristoff, who has six wins already this season, and world champion Peter Sagan, who has a record 15 stage wins in California.
“Racing in California is a challenge and a joy every time,” Sagan said. “I hope to continue building on the success I’ve had at the Tour of California, and know all the riders will do our best to give the incredible fans another good show this year.”
As the biggest North American stage race begins, here are some other story lines:
This is the first year the men’s race has been part of the WorldTour calendar, giving it added prestige. Twelve of the teams invited to the race are part of the WorldTour, and three pro-continental and two continental squads round out the lineup.
California native Peter Stetina, who led his Trek-Segafredo team last year, will miss the race while competing in the Giro d’Italia. His team instead will pin its hopes on U.S champion Greg Daniel and its sprinting contingent, led by Kiel Reijnen and John Degenkolb.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong will be back in California, albeit in a new role. She will serve as a race ambassador after winning the time trial in Rio last fall.
UAE Emirates was added to the men’s race after initially missing the registration deadline, while the USA Cycling National Team and Team Illuminate were added to the women’s race. The national team will include two sets of sisters in Hannah and Allison Arensman and Skylar and Samantha Schneider, while cyclocross star Katerina Nash will race for Team Illuminate.
BIG BLUE TRAIN
UnitedHealthcare is breaking out special edition kits that feature the logo of the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation. The team is hoping to raise awareness of the foundation, which has already awarded 13,000 medical grants and hopes to hit the 20,000-mark by 2020.