The unbearable heaviness of bad reporting

December 27, 2014 § 36 Comments

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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§ 36 Responses to The unbearable heaviness of bad reporting

  • Greg says:

    Holy crap. I’m in SoCal, and know all about Janel Holcomb, Jen Valente, Sarah Hammer….but I’ve never heard of Coryn until now. Thanks.

  • Tom says:

    With all those national titles, shouldn’t all the innuendo of chemically-assisted performance be in the blog post? You know, just to be fair & show equal incredulity to both men & women …

    • Crashgybe says:

      I was actually thinking that with all the doping that goes on, do any of the top men have testicles anyway? Seems that makes it pretty fair and equal.

    • fsethd says:

      Doping for the 14-15 junior women’s national ‘cross title? No.

  • Brian Gaskey says:

    Yes, it’s about time, look at Marianne Vos, what male cyclist have those palmares on the road, track and cross.

  • Tamar T. says:

    Here’s why Taylor is so popular. He’s cute. He’s a fashion plate. He’s charming. He’s witty. He’s nice. He works hard. He makes a big deal of riding clean. (That’s probably why he hasn’t won more than he has.) But he’s the future of American cycling, and I adore him.
    Coryn is terrific, she raced for a year for LaGrange, and we’re very proud of that fact.

    • fsethd says:

      No argument regarding the source of Taylor’s popularity. But his success has been greatly augmented by his parents, the careful stewardship of his career, and his gender. He has not shown much besides amazing time trialing skills, skills that may one day get him a world championship or a monument.

      Contrast that with Coryn, who is every bit as charming, hard working, and much, much more diverse in her skills. She has also had to earn every single success; Taylor has been funded and coached from Day One by cycling royalty. Not that that should be held against him, but there’s a “reporting gap” that can only be explained by cycling journalism’s inability to report and its implacable, slavish, fanboy approach to shining the spotlight on men.

      If Taylor had raced for a year for LaGrange, I think there would be monuments to it!

      • Kevin says:

        Um… Taylor Phinney has already won FIVE world championships.

        Junior World TT champ in 2007
        Junior World Pursuit champ in 2008
        ELITE World Pursuit champ in 2009 (bronze in the Kilo too BTW)
        U23 World TT champ in 2010 (bronze in the RR)
        ELITE World Pursuit champ in 2010 (bronze in the Omnium)

        Not to mention other results like 4th in the Olympic RR and TT, 7th in Milan San Remo, 1st twice in the U23 Paris-Roubaix. A stage win in the GIro along with a few days in pink. Two time Olympian, etc.

        Coryn Rivera is a great cyclist. Period. But you can’t compare their results. It appears that she just won her first elite national championship this year in the criterium. Phinney won three elite national titles while he was still a junior. It looks like Coryn is 22. By the time he was 22, Phinney had won elite national titles in the following events. Pursuit (twice), kilo, TT. Along with all five of his world titles that he won by that age.

        Coryn deserves good press for her achievements. But lets face it, Phinney has achieved far more in the same amount of time and most of it against far superior competition.

        Let her develop and race on her own merits and don’t try and compare junior cyclocross national championships against world elite championships. I don’t think that there is any race that you can win the US that is equal to winning and elite world title in any event. Period.

      • fsethd says:

        Phinney won all of his early events as a time trialist. He’s not a sprinter, a climber or a complete racer. He’s a giant engine with lots of physiological talent, and he’s a rider who has gotten nothing but the best from Day One. His achievements do not compare in the sense that, had Coryn been anointed from age 16, and had she been feted by the US fanboy press from the moment she began cycling, she would have his palmares and more.

        This of course is what biased reporting is all about: giving certain people preferential treatment at every level so that they can achieve their potential, while ignoring equally or more gifted people who don’t.

        No argument that world titles are far more impressive than junior national cyclocross titles. But that’s not the point. The point is that someone with 68 national titles, victories in every major US women’s road race in 2014, an elite national championship, accolades on the track, ‘cross, in crits, and in the women’s one Tour de France sponsored race — all by a woman who was a full time college student and getting by on very modest means — is a much more inspiring story than Phinney’s.

        This is just one example of insipid fanboy coverage. What about Phinney’s coverage v. Sarah Hammer? He is a footnote compared to her achievements, yet the disparity in coverage is wildly tilted towards Phinney. None of this is to say that Phinney lacks talent or potential. As I said, he may one day end up with a monument, and 4th in the world’s road race is evidence that on the right day and the right course he can win a classic.

        Of course he hasn’t, though. And Big George, EPO and all, never did.

      • Kevin says:

        Three words. Paris – Fucking – Roubaix. 1st twice in the U23. Phinney was annoited because he has the goods. Who is the last person to win an elite world championship as a junior???

        You bag on Phinney because he’s “only” a time trialist and yet I would bag on somebody because they are “only” a sprinter. A sprinter will win more races for sure, but a time trialist will be much less limited in the kinds of races that they can win. Consider Cavendish vs. Cancellera. Both won Milan San Remo. But Cav will never win Flanders, E3, Roubaix, etc.

        Take a look here: http://www.taylorphinney.com/palmares/

        Pretty sure that the Olympias Tour in 2010 wasn’t all TT’s.
        1st Olympia’s Tour: Prologue and Stages 1, 2 & 6
        2nd Olympia’s Tour: Stages 3 & 5
        1st Olympia’s Tour: Overall GC

        But Coryn won crit natz, so yeah I guess Phinney is over hyped.

        You are right to trumpet Coryn’s results, but you are way off base by picking Phinney as somebody who is over hyped and lacking in results.

      • fsethd says:

        I can’t help you read but I can tell you not to put words in my mouth. And if that doesn’t work I can tell you to shut up, block you, etc. You’ve made your point and missed mine. Please go to bed now.

  • I have been following her for a while now. She is amazing! Thanks for writing about her Seth.

  • MCB says:

    It’s not like other sports have done much to solve this gender problem, but it would be nice for cycling – and cycling journalism – to get ahead of the curve.

    • fsethd says:

      Because in cycling it’s hard to claim with a straight face that women aren’t a huge market.

      Easier to say that in, say, ice hockey.

  • channel_zero says:

    The Women’s racing that makes it onto youtube is very good watching. There’s even a good blog dedicated to elite Women’s racing. http://prowomenscycling.com/

    If Coryn is reading this and needs some elite cycling council, she could not do better than another international field destroyer who happened to be American, Inga Thompson.

    http://www.theouterline.com/perspectives-on-doping-in-pro-cycling-2-inga-thompson-5/

    When a coach sits Ms. Riviera down for The Talk about ‘taking your career to the next level’ having someone like Ms. Thompson to talk to will be invaluable. She knows the pressure, the expectations, etc. She’s on the Internets http://lonefirfriesians.weebly.com/

    Best of luck to Coryn and all the women trying to follow their elite cycling dreams in 2015.

  • Joe says:

    Met her a few times over the years at Tulsa Tough, and a nicer, more gracious racer doesn’t exist. And that’s saying something, since so many women pros are awesome. A guy on Cry Baby Hill wearing only a cowboy hat, super short cut-offs, boots, and a bike tan was holding up a sign that said “marry me Coryn!”, and she road back up the hill to thank him for cheering. She rode back up to say hi to him the next year too.

    • fsethd says:

      How cool is that? Yep, she has class. And she’s no one-trick pony, either. She sprints, she can go uphill, she can TT, and she is a magician of a bike handler.

  • LesB says:

    A glimmer of hope for the future of the sport can be seen in the past olympics in Britain, where the women’s cycling had just as many spectators as the men’s. I think it was ~1 million. Apparently the spectators are not under the spell of the cycling press.

    Us old white men had better act quick if we are to continue our tyranny into the future.

  • She is such a class act too. The sky is the limit for her and women’s cycling.

  • Peter Schindler says:

    You make a great point Seth.

  • 900aero says:

    Velo magazine did give her the title of domestic female sprinter of the year and include a nice photo & bio in the December issue so perhaps all is not lost. I’m not pretending that male/female coverage is equal but there is some recognition there at least by Velo.

    • fsethd says:

      Better than nothing, sort of. All those limiters …

      domestic
      female
      sprinter

      No one would think to call her our greatest cycling hope for the future. That would have too many implications: a woman is the best thing we have going for us; she’s just at the beginning of a phenomenal career; she has the potential to be so much more than a crit rider, etc.

      But you’re right, a little something is better than a lot of nothing!

  • 900aero says:

    Although they sound like limiters, I think the folks at Velo have got it pretty right. They’ve covered a lot of categories both international and US domestic, men & women. To give you a sense of it: Kirsten Wild is the international level womens sprinter of the year, Marcel Kittell is the mens. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is the Cyclist of the Year (not womens, all comers) and Katie Compton, Marianne Vos, Alison Powers, Lisa Brennauer, Lea Davison, Emma Pooley, Lizzy Armistead and others all head up various categories. So, I think Coryn is in great company and Velo’s acknowledgement is probably about right for her accomplishments to date. As you say though, she is only 22 and clearly has a huge future.
    If she doesn’t already have a role model, there are plenty to choose from in the list above.

    This isn’t to dispute your point that womens cycling often being the poor cousin (as it is in many sports) but just wanted to point out that Velo had actually made a pretty decent effort in the right direction.

    (I don’t buy the Mini-Phinney comparo by the way, but I take your point so how about we call it square and save that arm wrestle for another day?)

  • J says:

    Evelyn Stevens retires, the non-cycling media will be all over Coryn.

  • George says:

    That’s why I love the work of Kathryn Bertine, you would like her too

    http://kathrynbertine.com/ (She created the half the Road Documentary and was the initiator of LE Course)

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