The unbearable heaviness of bad reporting

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Coryn Rivera is America’s cycling star. Barely 22 years old, she is the reigning elite women’s crit champion. She holds sixty-eight national titles on the road, track, and in ‘cross. In 2014 she won virtually every major race she entered. Next year she has her sights set on pro success as a road racer to match her reputation as the country’s undisputed dominatrix of pro sprint finishes.

What’s more, there’s little reason to doubt that she will achieve it. In addition to a national road title as a junior, she also took a bronze medal in the road race at junior world’s. She scored sixth this year on the Champs-Elysees at La Course by Le Tour de France and won the young rider’s category. The only women to finish ahead of her were the best veteran pro roadies on the planet.

If Coryn were a man, she would be splashed all over VeloNews. Her every move would be religiously recorded on the Internet, and we’d be reading full-length feature interviews about every aspect of her life. In short, she would be like Taylor Phinney, with this difference: Phinney has nowhere near her talent.

Two years older than Rivera, Phinney may well one day win a world time trial medal. If the stars align, if he regains his health, and if he has a world-class team dedicated to delivering him and him alone to the line, he could even bring home a monument on the order of Roubaix, much less likely a win at Flanders. Otherwise, Phinney is a tremendous time trialist who’s simply too big physically to be a superstar in the hillier classics or the big tours. The days when a giant like George Hincapie could win a mountain stage of the Tour ended with his pathetic doping confession and the collapse of the Drugstrong Era.

What Phinney has, of course, is a pedigree, and it’s a pedigree that has provided him with the best connections imaginable in the world of cycling. His mother, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, is one of the best American woman road racers of all time. Her resume boasts Olympic gold in ’84, with silver and bronze medals at the world road championships in ’77 and ’81, along with twelve national cycling titles, countless wins in US road races, a successful career as a speed skater, and the distinction of being the youngest woman ever to compete in the Winter Olympics. Taylor’s father, Davis Phinney, is the winningest American bike racer of all time, with 328 wins, including two stages in the Tour and the overall at America’s premier stage race, the Coors Classic. Davis achieved all this when American cycling had no program to bring US amateurs into Europe; had he raced in his prime among the European peloton he would have been the dominant sprinter of his era.

It’s this pedigree and carefully nurtured career, along with his world class speed against the clock, that has guided Taylor along as the Chosen One among America’s professional cyclists, including a stint under the watchful eye of Lance Armstrong. Rivera, on the other hand, has had none of that. She grew up in extremely modest circumstances in urban LA, supported by her Filipino-American family where every race entry fee, every piece of equipment she had to buy, and every long distance trip was a sacrifice. She is truly a self-made woman.

From her days at the Carson velodrome training under Tim Roach, I watched her blitz any and all all comers, male and female alike. But no matter how many titles she won and no matter how brilliant her racing, she has always had to fight and scrap. When she burst onto the US pro women’s scene, collecting scalps with ease from older, “better,” and vastly more experienced racers, she received a modicum of press and nothing more.

This reflects the old boy network of cycling, where testicles matter more than results, and where the stellar athletic achievements of women are footnotes to the off-season training camp antics of men. If we want cycling to grow in recognition, we need to start recognizing the very best.

And that means starting with Coryn.

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