On the eve of the Australian championship road race RIDE spoke with one of the favourites, Tiffany Cromwell. The 25-year-old from Specialized-lululemon recognises that the late withdrawal of team-mate, Loren Rowney, means she’ll effectively be racing on her own. Rivals for the title include the five-woman line-up from her former team, Orica-AIS, as well as the likes of last year’s runner-up Jo Hogan and a host of others from the national and international scene.
Cromwell says she’s been chasing victory in the nationals for seven years and she’s consistently finished in the top 10 with her best result to date, silver medal in 2012 (behind team-mate at the time, Amanda Spratt).
Here is a transcript of the chat with Tiffany Cromwell…
By Rob Arnold
RIDE: Thanks for having a chat a day before you set off to try and win the national championships. Do you think you’re in with a chance of victory on Saturday?
Tiffany Cromwell: “That’s the plan. That’s what I hope will happen but it’s definitely not going to be an easy task. Obviously, I’m sitting on the other side of the fence now and I’m not with Orica-AIS and I know they’ll have a massive target on my back and they’re not likely to let me go anywhere. And there are quite a few girls from the domestic scene and some who are heading overseas with smaller teams who are looking quite strong.
“Jo Hogan has put it out there that she really wants the championship… and there are others who I’ll be keeping a close eye on like Miranda Griffiths – she’s pretty strong – and Peta Mullens is one who is good at sitting there and not doing anything and still being there at the finish with a good kick and she is absolutely able to sprint.”
There are a few on your list and you’ve got no team-mates either, have you?
“No, not really. I have one: our physio, Beth Duryea, she’s racing and she’s quite fit at the moment so she may do some work for me in the first half of the race and maybe a bit later.
“Unfortunately my other team-mate, Loren Rowney, has had to pull out sick so I will be out there on my own.
“My biggest thing is that I have to patient, that’s something I haven’t been good at in the past but I’m keen to work on that. Part of what happens is that I get excited, do too much too early and then I don’t have it when it counts.”
So what have you been doing to retrain your tactics?
“I think it’s just about learning to hold back. It’s about letting other teams do the work for me and play off of them instead of me always trying to make the race.
“In the past it was different because I never backed myself in a finish with other riders in a sprint. I always thought that if I was to win, I had to win solo and then any time I would get a small break I would want to go up the road straight away and try and push the break as much as I can. Now, after the Bay Series, I have a little bit more confidence in backing myself in a finish with a small group and knowing that I can rely a little bit on having a sprint. That’s a major thing for me – it’s about playing it smart and seeing how the other girls race…
“Everyone, by the sounds of it, is going to be looking at me but there are a lot of other girls out there who I think are going to have a really strong race; they’re certainly not going to hand it to me on a silver platter. They’re going to make me work extremely hard for it. I’m excited though.
“I’m excited to be in a different role and sort of learning to think about the races and how to win, as opposed to just being there at the finish and hoping for a good result.”
There has been a lot of change for you recently. Can you tell us a bit about some obvious differences for you, like the change of bikes from Scott (at Orica-AIS) to Specialized. You now have a naming-rights sponsor’s product underneath you…
“It seems like a really nice change. At Orica-AIS, the Scotts were very good bikes and I never had any complaints about them but with Specialized, you notice that they do put so much effort into the bikes and we have women-specific products which are at a high level. You get a lot of companies that do women-specific bikes and they might not focus on making it as light and it seems a little compromised. But Specialized is a massive company and I’ve been enjoying the equipment so far.
“People told me that you get on [a Specialized] and sit really well straight away. There are some bikes that you get on and you feel you’ve got to tweak them a lot but with the Specialized, I jumped on and it felt like a good bike immediately. I was comfortable right away and felt I could ride 100 or 200km if I wanted…
“I haven’t had a lot to do with the team yet because we have our first training camp soon; I leave for California next week. I’ll get to meet all the Specialized team in the States and lululemon as well – and they have some really cool casual clothing and we have a new kit that will be released at the team camp, so I’m excited to see what that will look like.
“Going back to the bikes, I noticed a change particularly on the time trial bike. It was a big difference. They put so much emphasis on the ‘aero is everything’ idea; they built the wind tunnel facility in Morgan Hill and I’m looking forward to dialling in my position for the TT there and working on the finer details.”
It would be great if you could keep us up to date with any changes that are made after you’ve had some time in the wind tunnel. It would be interesting to note the differences…
“Yeah, definitely. It is pretty easy to get into a routine. When you’ve been riding for quite a while, you just do the same all the time and it’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, this feels good…’ but then you never know if improvements can be made if you really focus on different aspects. Different positions do really make a big impact.
“I saw some pictures of myself in the time trial and already I know there are some areas that I could probably improve on if I shift my position a little bit but I’ll judge how that affects the performance.”
It’s all about keeping the power and not pushing so much wind – it’s a pretty simple concept that’s hard to perfect…
“Exactly. It’s easier said than done though.”
You got fourth in the time trial [behind Felicity Wardlaw, Shara Gillow and Bridie O’Donnel] and that’s got to be an encouraging way to start the season.
“Oh definitely. If I’m going to do any good in a time trial, I want it to be on a technical course – I want it to be hilly and all the things that this course [in Burrumbeet] didn’t have. It was very flat, fast and good for the bigger power riders.
“I was happy with the result.
“I have struck a few good time trials in the past: I did win that Route de France time trial in 2009 and that put me a little bit more into the TT mix but then I haven’t focussed on it at all in the last few years. I’ve never really been a noted time trial rider but I have some ability there.
“It’s something that I want to work on during the year as part of everything else because my long-term goal is to turn into more of a GC rider.
“Obviously I still love the one-day races but I’d like to tweak that and work on time trialling because then it expands the repertoire: time trial, climber, GC and also for the team time trial squad… that’s a big goal for me at the end of the year. I’d like to be part of the Specialized-lululemon line-up. They’re the best in the world at that and it would be nice to be part of it.”
They keep on winning world titles so why not add your name to the mix?
The time trial course may not have suited you, but the loop around Buninyong [for the road race] is ideal for a rider of your characteristics.
“Yes. Everyone says, ‘Oh we do the same every year…’ and I’m the same. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it’d be cool to have a change…’ but then the course does suit me.
“I think every year, I’ve been in the top 10 here but I’ve never been able to get the win. It’s a hard course it’s one that you can’t bluff your way through; you need to be strong, you need to have good legs on the day, and it certainly sorts out the strong from the weak.
“It’s a good course for the nationals and it gives us a true Australian champion.
“Okay, sure, the sprinters don’t really get much of an opportunity but it creates hard racing and it’s not so much team focused, I guess. It’s hard for one team to control the race.
“It’s a little different for the elite men, but for the women which generally have smaller teams – like Orica-AIS only has five riders this year – it comes down to a race of attrition and that’s the kind of race that I like. For me, the harder the better. That’s when I seem to have my stronger races.”
I spoke with Gracie Elvin earlier this week and she was saying that having the five in the line-up of a very professional team gives them an advantage even if it’s just for the sheer show of force. Do you feel that way against your former team?
“Yes and no. Certainly they do have that advantage and they know that they have the strength of numbers. But I’ve raced with all of those who are lining up – they are my former team-mates – so I know how they race.
“Maybe it’s quite intimidating for the girls on the domestic scene because they just think Orica-AIS is going to be able to rule the roost and dictate and dominate but I have that insight: I’ve been on the team for the last few years, I know how they’ll race, and the key is that I know the race too.
“They know that if one of their riders goes up the road, they can sit back and be happy because that’s what they want: the national title. And there’s a lot of emphasis in the team to bring the jersey to Europe for the rest of the season. And it’s a team that backs each other 100 percent. When you’re on the other side, you have to try and deal with that by covering everything but then not letting them continue to attack you and you being dead come crunch time.”
Was the departure amicable? Is there any animosity between you and that team?
“We left on very good terms. They understood where I was heading in my career and I was very grateful for what they did over the two years I was on the roster. I’m happy to be able to leave on good terms. We’re all still very good friends and they know what I’m trying to get to – I’m trying to get to the same level as Emma [Johansson], up there as one of the best cyclists in the world. To do that, you need to be racing against the best.
“They backed me 100 percent. They did offer me a new contract. And I didn’t leave on bad terms. I’m happy with that.”
Going back to your point about your lessons on tactics: what you do in a race – when you’re attacking and covering moves and perhaps being a little… ah, anxious – that is part of what makes a bike race entertaining. It’s almost a shame that you are aware that you need to limit doing that. It’s fine balance, isn’t it, of putting on a show and also being able to win.
“Exactly, it is. The difference is that, when you have the team to be able to do that, then they still make it a nice race and you can sit back and know that when you have to go, you have to go!
“The perfect example was the world championships [in Florence in September 2013]: we’re so used to seeing Marianne Vos so active throughout all her races but in Italy she didn’t do a single thing throughout the race until she made her final attack. She just had to follow. She had her team-mates there to back her and it was still and entertaining race.
“My problem is, if I’m just sitting there not doing anything, I feel like I need to do something.
“It’s no so much anxious, rather I get a little bit… maybe bored in a way – I want to be part of the action. But there has to be a limit. As you say, you want to be putting on a show, you want it to be an aggressive race but you just have to wait and see how it pans out and then the time to make it really exciting is when it really counts.
“I’ve gone from being more-or-less a domestique for most of my career and I’m starting to change to try and take on more of a leadership role. I’m looking at trying to win races as opposed to setting up team-mates to win. That whole change is a reminder of having limits. If you want to use energy at certain points, then try your luck earlier but it’s important to think further and have a view of the bigger picture and what you want to get out of the race.
“Every little bit you use throughout the race, is energy that can be wasted. You might need it for that one, super important attack at the end.
“It’s a hard balance because you don’t want to be negative but you also want to make sure that you’ve got the reserves to win the bike race. And to do that, you’ve got to conserve and make it count when it matters.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold