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Captain Cromwell

From the chaos of last-minute cancellations to a more protracted pause, this spring has been unlike any other Tiffany Cromwell has seen. We caught up with CANYON//SRAM’s experienced Aussie road captain in Finland to hear how she is handling the new reality of life as a pro.

23 April 2020

This weekend should have seen the CANYON//SRAM team head to the Dutch Ardennes to defend the title Kasia Niewiadoma won last year at the Amstel Gold race. In a searing attack up the Cauberg, the Pole distanced her rivals beforing holding off Annemiek van Vleuten to take a memorable win.

But this year, just like every other sports team – with the strange exception of Belarussian football clubs – CANYON//SRAM find themselves in a strange new world, sidelined from racing and facing a different set of questions. At a time like this, wise heads and experienced riders like Tiff are vital.

Speaking to us from Finland, she admitted that while the break was bound to cause widespread uncertainty, it was important to make the most of the situation. “I’m lucky to have a pretty good set-up here,” she told us, reflecting on her new, snowy surroundings. “The weather could be a touch warmer but at least it’s clear skies and sunny. I can’t complain.”

“All my teammates share the same mentality – enjoy the rare time at home and try not to lose focus.”

Like most other people, Tiff was blissfully unaware of just how large an impact the outbreak would have on her life when it first hit the headlines. “To begin with, you kind of thought ‘alright, it’ll be a couple of weeks and then we’ll be back to racing.’ I had raced Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and I had another race at Strade Bianche coming up but then the day before travelling we were told to stay at home.”

“Now it seems there just isn’t an end. Keeping the focus is hard but when I speak to my teammates we are all of the same mindset – enjoy the rare time at home and try not to lose your concentration.”

So what kind of opportunities beyond the bike does this rare, extended break throw up for professional cyclists? “I’m just hitting the point now where I’m adding other activities into my training,” Tiff tolds us. “Before I was still training outside, working towards the Olympics in the back of my mind. I was continuing to train for that, in case selections were made but now with that off the radar, it’s really nice to enjoy doing nothing, and doing other things.”

“I’m just hitting the point now where it’s really nice to be doing other things, and to enjoy doing nothing sometimes too.”

“Riding is still a nice outlet but since I’m here in Finland, there’s the opportunity to do lots of other things besides. I’ve been mountain biking a bit and there’s still a bit of snow and ice up here too so I’ve been trying out ice skating on the local lake. We’re keeping isolated but it is a chance to do other things and enjoy the company of those close to you.”

With no shortage of extra-curricular activities to keep Cromwell occupied in Finland, you could forgive her for switching off completely from cycling for a while. But with ten years as a professional already behind her, the sport is far from her thoughts.

With her last outing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – a prestigious Belgian semi-classic which she won in 2013 – now well over a month ago, we asked Tiff which races she had missed the most so far this spring.

“Omloop holds a special place in my heart but I would still say that either Strade Bianche or the Tour of Flanders is my favourite race. Strade is hard but also beautiful and that finish in Siena is like nothing else on the calendar. Flanders is the biggest of them all, there is always a lot of pressure on but it is still beautiful. They are the two stand out races.”

“Omloop holds a special place in my heart but the finale of Strade Bianche is like nothing else on the calendar.”

One thing Tiff does not miss is the terrible weather that inevitably affects a number of the Spring Classics each season. Rain, sleet and snow might add to the viewer’s experience but as an Adelaide native, Tiff is more than happy to avoid the worst of the weather this spring, and suspects most of her rivals are too.

“I don’t think anyone genuinely prefers wet conditions. Lizzie Deignan always used to enjoy the rain. She’d be like ‘Oh awesome, this is great.’ You know, growing up in Yorkshire, she’s well used to it.”

“I never enjoy riding in the wet but I don’t let it hinder my performance either, let’s put it like that. I seem to be able to handle wet conditions and ride reasonably well in them too. I’ve always kind of embraced it but anyone who tells you they prefer those conditions is a little bit crazy.”

Turning her attention ahead to the remainder of the season, there’s one race, whether it’s run in the rain or the dry, that Tiff hopes can be saved. “Every year, my favourite event is the World Championships. It’s always a beautiful event, one where you get to represent your team and your country, and you get to chase those rainbows. If I had to choose, that is the one I would love to keep.”

“The key to racing in wet weather is simple – you have to embrace the conditions.”

With the sport’s blue riband event due to take place in the UCI’s backyard in Aigle, Switzerland, it is hoped that the logistical and financial roadblocks affecting the Worlds may be less extensive than those facing other races. There is still every chance the sport’s blue riband events can take place.

Ever the optimist, Tiff hopes so too but realises that redoubling her efforts now might not be the best preparation. “I could keep my training going for the next month but realistically July is the earliest we can start racing. So for now I’m staying a bit more relaxed, both physically and mentally. I’ll get back into a routine in a couple of weeks.”

How much cycling that routine will include is left a mystery. With the current cycling season still on ice and the frozen lakes of Finland for a playground, perhaps it will be at a speed skating competition that we next see Tiff. Who knows? This season, stranger things really have happened.

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