Tiffany Cromwell on patience, risk, and the Tour Down Under
At the base of a short climb in Mallorca up to the old church of Sant Salvador, Tiffany Cromwell pauses, leans against an old fence, and begins changing. She eats something and points out how cute the baby lambs are nearby.
Cromwell is in the middle of a training ride with the new CANYON//SRAM team and is adding an extra climb. She finds herself in the predicament of needing to be fit early in the season in order to race well at the Australian national road championships [where she won a bronze in the time trial] and Santos Women’s Tour, in mid January, at a time when most other pros don’t mind eating dessert and riding piano.
Rapha: How did you come to this?
Tiffany Cromwell: Cycling found me. I’ve always been a sporty person; growing up in Australia, it’s part of our culture. It was through school, the state sports institute. They invited me to try the velodrome. From there, I did a couple of sessions and was put in a lab for fitness tests. They thought I had the potential to be a cyclist and I got invited to a talent search program – the rest is history, I’d say.
What have you been most proud of, results wise? Omloop in 2013?
Omloop was a very special one, definitely. I love the spring classics. It was probably my biggest win, or on par with my Giro stage win. I knew I had form, but to win a Classic in such hard conditions, and from a two-up? Before, I could never sprint. It was the weakest of all of my elements. But coming over the line first, it was a really special feeling.
How tough is it to peak at the right times? You have to be fast so early in the season.
It’s a very fine line. A hard balance to manage. I’d say I probably haven’t been successful at it yet. I’m usually coming good later in the season, not so good early. You see it across the board, particularly with Australian national champions. They’ll be fantastic for the first part of the season and then won’t be good come the world championships. You have to lay out your goals… It’s impossible to keep that top form all season long. You can stay maybe 2% below, but you’re not going to win races with that.
What drives you mad about being professional?
I’m very active. I want to be in the mountains, I want to try snowboarding. Knowing that you do have to be a bit more careful sometimes. And I miss big events. Both of my brothers have been married while I’ve been racing. So, things like that are certainly tough.
Who do you admire?
I’d say Lizzie [Armitstead]. She’s one of my best friends but she’s also someone I have a huge amount of respect for. She’s been a massive influence over the past few years. Just settled me down, given me perspective.
You’ve been in the game a while, but even still, is there a certain intimidation that happens during races?
Depending on the race and how much pressure I put on myself is how nervous I get. I’m pretty good, just game-face on. In the early years I’d attack all day long and not think about it. I wasn’t afraid to have a go, but I didn’t use my energy wisely. Now for me, it’s more a game of learning to do the right attacks at the right time. Before it was “I have nothing to lose.”
You have to back yourself even more. It’s having that team around you, supporting, believing in you, knowing you can do it. I was never super intimidated, except in the biggest of races, [but] you realise everyone is just sitting there. We’re all normal, we’re all the same. We’re all doing it for the same reasons. Why should you be intimidated if someone is trying to stare you down, and play their mental games?
The sport itself is so mental. How do you just wait for the right time? It seems that’s the roughest part. Waiting.
Depending on the person, it’s very hard to just wait. And also, then, learning not to wait as well. Sometimes in your head you’re thinking, ‘should I go with that move? Shouldn’t I?’ And if you think too much about it, it’s gone. It’s about using your instincts. Some people don’t have it. Some people do.
It’s about cunning, then. Who’s got it in spades?
[CANYON//SRAM’s] Trixi [Worrack] knows when to make the moves. They’re always hard. They’re always good moves. I like to say I’m quite good, tactically. Not always in my own personal way of racing — because it’s funny how you can be very tactically smart and tell your teammates what to do, but if you put yourself in that position, it can be quite different.
Who should win more than she does?
Emma Johansson. I’ve been teammates with her before. She’s always there. Always there, but she’s not always winning. She’s had that many podium spots but not that many victories.
It’s almost time for the Tour Down Under. Does that feel like a noteworthy homecoming?
It’s a special bike race for me, the first bike race I ever saw. I started cycling and I remember we got taken to a stage. As a junior growing up, you’re getting the merchandise, you’re riding with the pros, and oh my god, it’s such a big deal. As I’ve gotten older, it’s still fun but now when everyone comes to town I want to show it off. The women’s race — it’s even more special.
What would be a good year for you in 2016?
To keep developing. To see that I’ve made progressions. Olympic selection. That’s the biggest goal of all. But I want some victories. I’ve been part of team victories, but I haven’t had an individual one for a while. I want that winning feeling and to see that I’m fixing my mistakes and getting it right.
This interview appeared in a printed edition of the Doppio – Rapha’s double-shot of road racing reportage –produced for the Tour Down Under. You can download the newspaper as a pdf here.