Story by Jacqueline Valderrabano
Video by Caitlyn Jones

Viridiana Pineda can´t stand the pain in her legs. She lies in her bed, her usual smile absent, her eyes welling. During the last few weeks, she has been putting in extra effort up and down the hills nearby her house for the upcoming mountain biking competition.

However, on this night, she is not sure she can keep up the training, and she bursts into tears.

“My friends say I’m crazy just for doing lots of exercise,” she says. “They tell me I can die due to the physical activity I do.”

“My dad said I wasn’t giving my best in training”, she says later, recalling that moment of doubt. Her parents believe Viridiana can become the best cyclist in the world – and she must train that way.

At 16, Viridiana is not a typical girl. She almost never goes out with her friends. She has changed her class schedule to accommodate her training. She often saves the money her parents give her. She’d rather use it to pitch in with family expenses and the “Stars Mountain Bike Club” team to which she belongs.


Viridiana is a student, a part-time employee, and a professional cyclist. She doesn’t have any time for other activities. She only spends time with her friends during breaks at school. Her friends often joke about her hard routine. “My friends say I´m crazy just for doing lots of exercise,” she says. “They tell me I can die due to the physical activity I do.”

Viridiana and her family live in a two-bedroom home in Valle de Bravo. By the window that overlooks the street, next to the dining room, more than a dozen colorful medals decorate the wall. Viridiana and her father have won them in competitions.

Her father, Manuel Pineda, was the mountain-bike Mexican national champion in 1997. Fifteen years later as her daughter´s trainer, Manuel’s main purpose in life is to have her follow his legacy. He’s not shy about shouting during training to encourage Viridiana, or let her know she is not training well.

“When we ride on the bike, do not look at me as your father,” Manuel says. Viridiana understands the difference. However, it doesn’t mean that things work out well among them. She is a teenager after all and sometimes doesn’t follow his suggestions; this causes them tension.

“Dad my bike´s tire is loose!”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You should have checked it. I told you.”

“When we go training, I have to do what he says,” Viridiana says, “otherwise he gets upset.”

Viridiana repeats her drills several times without stopping. When she finishes, she sends text messages to her mom promising she will be her champion, a promise that is never far from her mind. It is an oath to her parents, evidence of her perseverance over her exhaustion. The wounds and scars from cycling, she says, matter less to her.

Viridiana´s mother, who has the same name, gave her a little bicycle charm as a gift.

Viridiana considers it a good luck amulet, and wears it in every competition.

When a competition is approaching, the pressure at home rises. There is always tension between father and daughter. Both of them want Viridiana to finish in the top five places.

“Sometimes, I feel she lives under constant pressure from her father,” Viridiana’s mother says. When she represents the county or the state, she doesn’t feel the same responsibility. But Viridiana is afraid of disappointing her family. “As a trainer, he demands so much,” her mother says. “That’s why I have to support my children.”

“My family believes in me,” Viridiana says, “and I´m going to believe in myself.”
Life, she says, is like a cycling race. There are obstacles and falls. Every day is an opportunity to get up and keep going.

Viridiana’s mother prepares breakfast according to a nutritionist’s prescription. Viridiana serves herself two plates with chopped fruit and a protein shake. She and her father have breakfast together. During breakfast, they remain silent most of the time.

Through narrow steps and a wood handrail, Viridiana carries down her Giant 27.5 inch bicycle. She washes the mud from her bike with water and oils the bike´s chain.

When she walks out her house, Viridiana turns toward church of Santa Maria and asks for her protection. She rides between eight and 13 hilly kilometers each day, beginning in the crowded winding streets downtown and ascending the mountain roads surrounding Valle de Bravo and connecting it to nearby villages.

The morning sunlight shines on the cobblestone streets of Valle de Bravo. She stares straight ahead. Her breathing comes faster. Her lips are slightly dry and her face bears the contortions of exertion.

Viridiana faces dangerous and challenging routes. Some drivers do not let her pass them on the road, though she could easily outpace them in their cars. Valle de Bravo’s cobblestones, unpredictable road maintenance, steep descents and sharp curves would be terrifying to cyclist like her who have the privilege of training every day on well-groomed circuits.


It hasn’t always been this way. For years, she rode her bicycle just for fun, and she was good at it. But when her father saw her purchase her own bicycle he came to believe that she was destined to be a competitor, and he began to train her. When she turned 14, she started to win races.

Manuel, a 34-year-old man with sturdy legs and a broad back, has the same physical endurance as his daughter. When she’s training, he rides beside her for the first five kilometers.

He trains with exuberance. “So many times people mock me, because I cheer and support my daughter.” He screams during hill climbs, “Venga flaca, tú puedes!” “Come on, Skinny, you can do it!”

Manuel has dedicated more than 15 years of his life to cycling. “Unfortunately, we never accompanied him to any competitions the way he does with his own children,” says Doña Jose, Viridiana´s Grandmother.

Viridiana’s parents’ fruit shop is a family business. “El Huerto de Getsemani,” (The Garden of Gethsemane), is located between Juarez and El Callejón de las Animas streets in the heart of town. Viridiana takes care of the store. She cleans the refrigerator and the fruit shelves. Chatting with Hugo, a young man who works for the Pinedas, she tells him that she didn’t sleep very well and she is exhausted.

Viridiana is consumed with school from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the evening. She is consistently on the honor roll and is considering a university degree in Sports Nutrition in Guadalajara—a four-hour drive from Valle de Bravo.

Karina Tola and Paco Tapia are her best friends, and admire Viridiana as a mature and responsible girl. Viridiana is friendly and smiles easily, but can easily lose her head when she doesn’t place well in races. Karina and Paco say she lives under constant stress and fear of disappointing her family.

By evening, the exhaustion of Viridiana’s morning workouts can catch up with her, and it takes a special will to power through her homework.

Viridiana shares her bedroom with Alexia, her younger sister. The room is decorated with a picture of Viridiana and her father on their bicycles. Alexia looks up to Viridiana and feels protective when she catches her crying after a bad race, sometimes asking her father to tone down the pressure. Still, she hopes to join Viridiana in training soon.


In June of this year, Viridiana competed in a much-anticipated national meet in the state of Guanajuato. The family made sacrifices to get her there. For this competition, they organized a raffle and sold one of their best bicycles to have enough money to buy a new one for Viridiana.

“Only rich people can afford this sport,” says Manuel. Buying a brand new bicycle costs more than 28,000 pesos (around $200). . “We barely make ends meet,” Manuel says.

On the way to the competition a driver rear-ended their transport truck and Viridiana´s new bicycle frame, seat and handlebars were damaged. Viridiana burst into tears.


When they arrived in Guanajuato Manuel frantically searched for help in repairing the bike and was able to get her off at the starting line.

Viridiana was in third place when she blew a tire.

Manuel scrambled and found Viridiana a borrowed bike so she could finish the race but she never fully recovered and finished in sixth place, below their goal.

A day later, Viridiana looks shaken as she recalls her father bursting into tears at the finish line. “I disappointed my dad,” she says. But Manuel, she says, just hugged her. “He didn’t want to say anything to make me feel worse,” she says.

The following week after the race was rough for Viridiana and her father. Valle de Bravo’s active rainy season prevented them from riding. Viridiana caught a cold and stomach bug.

“When I feel sad, I become cranky, and feel like doing nothing,” Viridiana said. “I give up easily.”

The Pinedas are in charge of organizing the next mountain cycling event in Valle de Bravo, and Viridiana takes the upcoming competition especially seriously. “My family believes in me,” Viridiana says, “and I´m going to believe in myself.”

Life, she says, is like a cycling race. There are obstacles and falls. Every day is an opportunity to get up and keep going.

A Generational Cycle

Viridiana Pineda, 16, lives in Valle de Bravo, Mexico and is a competitive cyclist. Her father Manuel Pineda, a former national champion cyclist, trains her. Training and competition create stress for Viri and her dad. Both of them try hard to separate their roles of father and daughter from coach and trainer. Don Manuel has lost the physical condition and the physical appearance of an athlete, but, that hasn’t stopped him from training every day with his daughter.  Viri gathers the motivation to continue to train from her father, her mother, her sister and her friends. Despite the stress, cycling keeps her bonded to the people she loves.

Viridiana Pineda, 16, starts her day pedaling down on one of the main roads of Valle de Bravo which connect two nearby towns Colorines and Boquilla. She begins her daily training schedule every morning at 9 a.m. with her trainer and father Manuel Pineda.

Medals hang in the window of Viri’s home representing the multiple competitions won by Viri and her father. All together they have placed in more than 20 races.


On the road to Monte Alto Viri struggles against fatigue as she climbs the steep roads. Despite cycling through a hard road and feel pain on her legs, Viri does not stop and always finishes her training routes.


Karina Tola and Viri sit together during a break at school. Karina is one of Viri’s best friends.


The walls of Viri’s small room are full of pictures and look like a collage. Viri collects photos of friends and family.


Viri works in El Huerto de Getsemani, a fruit store her parents own. Viri helps her parents at the store by waiting on costumers, ordering inventory and cleaning the stands. She works at store twice daily, before and after school.


During the visit with her nutritionist, Viri receives instructions on how stay healthy before and after her next competition. Viri follows a special diet in order have enough energy for training.


Before leaving, Viri smears lotion on her legs to warm up her muscles. She does not usually warm up or stretch before riding and has never been seriously injured.


Viri waits to leave for  an out of town race with the Valle de Bravo Mountain biking team. The team is managed by her father and consists of 18 members of which only two are women, Viri and her sister Alexia, 11.


Viri and her coach at the cycle track on the road to Monte Alto. Viri usually leads the trainings, but this time she competes against Don Manuel.

On top of Monte Alto with the view of the Valle de Bravo dam, Viri takes a break after a nearly five mile ride.

During her training Don Manuel holds onto Viri to stabilize her movement. As her trainer, Don Manuel watches all of Viri’s moves carefully rides behind her.