Australian Tiffany Cromwell has been on the professional road scene for more than 10 years, riding with the Canyon//SRAM squad since its creation in 2016.
She’s won two stages at the Giro Donne, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and La Route de France, but much of Tiffany’s job these days as road captain for the team. A couple of years ago she added gravel to her race calendar, leading to a seventh place at last year’s inaugural World Championships.
We spoke to Tiffany the day before she won last weekend’s TREK UCI Gravel World Series race, SEVEN, near Nannup, south of Perth, Western Australia.
How is the Australian gravel scene?
TC: “It's growing. I feel like it's following the trend of the US in that the Road Series is really struggling right now, which is unfortunate as we're losing more and more races. The relationship with drivers isn't necessarily the best in Australia, I notice that when I come back home in the summer, I feel nervous on the road sometimes with some of the drivers because of their attitude towards riders. So I think that's also a reason why people are going to gravel.
“The other unique thing with Australia is we do have a lot of nothing once you leave the cities, so there is a lot of gravel roads to explore and now doing some gravel I'm seeing that. Even in Adelaide Hills where I've grown up training many, many thousands of k's on the road, but this summer had my gravel bike with me and I realised there's actually a ton of gravel roads as well.”
You’re coming to the land of Whisky, but tell me about Oath Gin?
TC: “It started as a passion project between me and Valtteri [Bottas] my boyfriend. When we first met gin was our common drink and we’d collect them from around the world, wherever we were travelling. We thought it'd be kind of fun to make our own gin, then we were talking with some friends who had experience in alcohol startups, we got connected with a distillery in Finland and it went from there.
“It's still super small, but we're having fun. It's been interesting learning about all the different elements because obviously you create a great product, but then it's distribution in every country and stuff like this. And Oath as a brand we'll look at potentially expanding that into other things as well. We've got some fun ideas. You're not an athlete forever, so it's always good to have some side projects.”
Does the distraction help you focus on the athletic side?
TC: "Definitely. Obviously it's a balance, but for me how I switch off is focusing on other things. I'm not somebody who can just sit still, I'm not someone that just wants to look at training data all day long, I'd rather have something else to stimulate myself, that's what refreshes me.”
How’s the year gone athletically?
TC: “A little up and down. I came into the season in some of the best form I've had in recent years. UAE was good then I went to Strade Bianche thinking I can actually do something really strong for the team.
“I got a puncture on the start of the long sector and spent the rest of the race chasing. That was challenging and frustrating but then I had some good races, like in De Panne and in Wevelgem, even though I felt super rubbish I was able to be there at the finish. Roubaix was the same story, I went to the first sector perfectly positioned with my team, that was my job, then we hit the second part of the first sector I got taken out with a crash. That was a little bit frustrating because I knew I could have done more, but that's the Classics, you have your good years you have your bad years. I left a bit hungry for more.
“Now we hit the gravel with these four races in five weeks. It's nice when I do gravel because I can actually focus on results and podiums, whereas when I'm with Canyon-SRAM I know my job is normally a support rider So it'll be fun to see what I can do.”
You seem to have a new lease of life in recent seasons.
TC: “I think just getting some better consistency in my life. I was definitely very up and down for a number of years and went through phases where I definitely wasn't enjoying the sport so much. Whereas now, being in a relationship and having a bit more stability at home, I think that completely changed everything because you can have better structure, I have a lot more balance which helps me stay focused and has helped give me that energy again to race well.
“Then I started seeing my form get better and it's more fun once you're there part of the business part of the race, that naturally pushes you more to say, ‘Okay, I want to be here, I want to be able to do jobs for the team and just race my bike.’ To get that form back again gave the motivation.
“And then the addition of gravel, because that's given me this option to do the parts of the road that I love, the classics, certain stage races, but then I can have a disconnect by racing gravel. It's a different mentality, the atmosphere is way more relaxed, I just have to think about myself. I think that's nice because then I get away from the stress of the World Tour and then when I come back I'm fresh and ready to race again.”
What about training, how does that differ?
TC: “Honestly, not a huge amount. I'd say it's pretty easy to go into gravel from the road just because I have the engine and a lot of races it’s more just about having an engine, it's not about having quick twitch or sprinting or specific efforts.
“The biggest thing you have to train is just on the bike and on gravel because it is a very different feeling to what you're doing on the road. It's a bit harder, the bike's bit heavier, all these different things. But if I do gravel block it's remembering I still need to do the sprint efforts and specific intensities so that I don't lose too much of that like going back to the road.
The Gralloch: What about the whole gravel scene, do you have a beer after?
TC: “I enjoy that side, but I'm not really a big beer drinker. Valtteri, he will go and enjoy that, very much so, but I just love the camaraderie after the finish. A couple of the events I've done where I've been on the bike for seven, eight hours, you're just KO but then you just hang out afterwards, have the beers, have the dirty food like the chips and burgers, that's one of things that I enjoy. You go through everything get to the finish line but then you can still enjoy yourself afterwards.”
Why The Gralloch?
TC: “Scotland, I've only been once before, for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and I saw the event and it looked quite cool and the timing was right. Scotland's wild it's one of those places outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow is supposed to be what gravel’s about, with remote locations. And having more races in Europe is also important to me.
What are you expecting?
TC: “I'm just hoping for a good day out, hoping that we don't get typical Scottish weather, hoping the sun comes out! But I'm there to try and win, to try and podium and it's something that I know I can do.
"I'll be racing hard and giving my all but at the same time I just want to enjoy it and explore that region, because I've said I've never been down to that part of Scotland.”