A star back on track: Exclusive interview with Tiffany Cromwell

Tiffany Cromwell has got her 2013 European campaign off to a flying start, winning her first Classics race in Belgium at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The victory marks the maturing of a rising Australian talent and is a testament to her hard work and dedication. After a successful 2009, Cromwell seemed to have the cycling world at her feet. Then, as quickly as she had begun rising through the cycling ranks, bad luck plagued her through 2010-2011, with teams collapsing and the young Australian was left in the wilderness of professional women’s cycling.

Cromwell describes this period as one of ‘being in a hole.’ During this she found herself looking for motivation and pushing herself to continue chasing her cycling dream.

“It was some pretty hard times. 2011 in particular. When you’re going so well and going steadily, then when you hit these speed humps, you’re not riding so well, it is difficult. You’re overseas, you’re racing, your spending 9 months of the year away from Australia, away from your friends and your family, making sacrifices and when you’re doing that and you’re not getting what you want out of it, it makes it hard.

Mentally more physically, it’s a mess.

I signed with one of the best teams in the world and it folded at the last minute, then I was back in the National program, which the national program is a fantastic program, but for me it was like a step back. I’d got to that point in racing with them and then signed, which is ultimately what you want to do only to get that taken away. Mentally you have to have that fight to try to prove yourself, (to) get picked up by another team.

The following year it just went from bad to worse…I couldn’t find my motivation, I wasn’t racing well, then come the end of the season I just needed a really big break. It’s pretty hard. It’s great when things are going well, but it’s those times when things are going bad is the difference of how much you love the sport..or if you want to hang it up.” Cromwell said.

The moments of doubt for Cromwell have faded away with success and happiness in her new team, Orica-AIS. She has reinvigorated her career with the Australian based outfit and feels very at home with them. Added to this, is the vibrant Australian community of professional cyclist in Europe.

There have been many advantages to joining Orica-AIS, namely the opportunity to work closely with some of Europe’s most experienced riders, such as the recently retired Judith Arndt. By thriving on a team with a strong race plan and clearly defined plans, she has found her feet with the Australian owned team.

The motivation came back with a vengeance going into 2012 and Cromwell has focussed on working on her weaknesses to improve her riding. This hard work over the last twelve months is clearly paying off.

Her 2013 European campaign has got off to a flying start, winning her first Classics race in Belgium at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

An indelible image from the race is a well rugged up Cromwell crossing the line with her arms in the air. The freezing conditions adding extra pressure on the riders, but Cromwell seemed to thrive on it.

“No one wants to race when it’s freezing cold, but for me personally, I’m ok with those conditions, but physically you never feel as incredible when the conditions are so cold cos you have to wear so many clothes and you worry about ‘do I wear too much, do I not wear enough’, (you) never warm up. I think also it takes a lot more out of you than you think when it’s so cold. You use a lot more energy and you have to be so much more cautious about eating enough and drinking enough than what you would in hotter conditions. (It) certainly made it for a much more difficult race but oddly for me it worked out well, “ said Cromwell.

The victory was very much a team affair, with Orica-AIS being represented by former winners Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) 2012 and Emma Johansson (Swe) 2010-2011. Cromwell has benefitted enormously from their presence.

“The Classics is so much about experience and knowing the roads. The nature of the race is you can come into one sector and be in the wrong position and need to cross over…It’s great to have them there to guide us through, y’know, give tips on what’s coming up, where we need to be, holding the team together…It’s the difference for us and the way we race together,” Cromwell said.

The Orica-AIS team planned their race well and when they had four riders in the final break away of 16, Cromwell saw an opportunity and took it. “I just tried one last time, I thought nothing was going to stick. I thought ‘ok, everbody’s going to not let anybody get up the road and it was going to come down to a sprint with the last 16.’

Once Cromwell had broken away and managed to get American rider Megan Guarnier, from Rabobank Women’s Cycling, to do some of the work, she says,

“I was feeling strong and I really wanted to make this work.”

“I had a couple of words with her, y’know, ‘why won’t you work’, but then eventually she came through. “

“You don’t want to drag somebody, give them a free ride to the finish. Once she started rolling through I realised she hasn’t got much in the tank left, or I was hoping that. Her turns weren’t that strong and I just kept pushing it hard.”

That attitude paid off.

“I’m a little bit surprised by how well I’m going coming into the season, I knew I was strong, but you just never know how everybody is, particularly post Olympic year. You never know how people are going to be this early in the season.

“It’s exciting for the moment and it is nice to know that all that hard work is paying off. Oddly for me it’s about closing that gap and really stepping up this year.”

There is no doubt that Tiffany Cromwell has begun this year in a fantastic fashion with a number of solid performances during the Michelton Bay Classics and the Ladies Tour of Qatar, culminating in winning the Omloop het Nieuwsblad.

Let’s hope that we are witnessing the beginning of a long and successful career.

Published on http://www.theroar.com.au 4th March 2013

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