Power couples in sport are relatively common, but few would win a race against the combined speed and skill of Canyon-SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell and Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas.
The pair are often seen supporting each other at their respective competitions. Cromwell’s creativity has been stamped across Bottas' forehead at many races, the fashion student turned bike racer designing a plethora of his F1 helmets, whilst the Finnish F1 driver played bottle-passer as his partner took third in April's North Carolina edition of the Belgium Waffle Ride.
Gravel events have become a much larger part of Cromwell’s racing calendar in recent years, alongside the traditional World Tour staples - so far this year she’s supported the team at the likes of Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold Race, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, and Stade Bianche.
“The gravel rides were a nice idea from the team to try to get my enthusiasm back when I was renegotiating my contract for last year,” Cromwell, who has been a pro rider since 2010 and a stalwart of Canyon-SRAM since its inception in 2016, explained.
She didn’t just try her hand at gravel racing; in her 2021 debut at the Belgian Waffle Ride in Kansas, the 33-year-old took victory on a Canyon Grail CF SL 7 Race CSR gravel bike. And the variety has done the trick in terms of motivation on the road, too.
“Sure, [in gravel races] people race hard, but either side of it's all about the fun, community. For me now, it's nice because I can have lots of tough racing. I can go off, do some gravel racing, relax, switch off from the road scene’s mental toughness, and then go back to the road.”
After a difficult 2020 season, where Cromwell didn’t race from February until August, the new focus has reignited her motivation and enjoyment of racing, taking bike racing from a monotonous job to an “80-20 split between fun and work.”
Cromwell’s early aspirations were around a career in fashion, until she was picked up by the Australian National Talent Identification and Development (TID) platform; similar stories come from the likes of Rohan Dennis, who was a swimmer before crossing over to cycling via the TID.
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Cromwell has designed several custom helmets for Bottas, including the Australia-inspired lid he wore at the April GP, taking place in her home country. If you’re unfamiliar, a racing driver’s helmet is their identity when they’re in the car; their design is one of the last few personalisations left in the world of sport which is heavily prescribed by sponsors.
“When Valtteri asked, ‘Did I want to design his helmet?’ that's big in my eyes,” Cromwell said. “It's an enormous pressure. I was super honoured, but at the same time, there is so much exposure, and that's the driver’s identity. So I always felt pressure to deliver,” having created multiple designs now, evidently, delivery was on point.
Before joining Alfa Romeo for the 2022 season, Bottas raced for Mercedes and Williams; he has ten Grand Prix victories to his name and 183 Grand Prix’s, finishing on the podium 67 times. He’s no slouch in the car, and he’s pretty fast on the bike, too.
Formula 1 is an endurance event racing that can last over two hours, and the physical exertion of driving these highly tuned race cars is clear to see. Drivers can lose up to 2 kilograms at a race.
For Bottas, switching up his training to avoid monotony (arguably, like Cromwell’s move into gravel), is essential.
“Adding in different sorts of training is important to me, and something that I need because the F1 circus is so hectic and it's nonstop. It’s the driving part and the testing and the visits to the factory and all the sponsor days and that kind of thing that people don't see,” he told Cycling Weekly.
Training on the bike seems to be paying off, too. Racing the 2022 Belgium Waffle Ride this year in San Marcos, California, Bottas took second place in the 'Wanna' short course.
2nd place in BWR California 72km course 🚴🏼♂️#VB77 #Gravel #BWRCalifornia🎥 @paulripke @tiffanycromwell pic.twitter.com/759uoPkyjOMay 1, 2022
He completed that race on a Canyon, taking on the sponsor of partner Cromwell. However, his collection is varied, even owning a piece of cycling history: Tadej Pogačar’s 2021 Tour de France bike. “There was a charity auction in Monaco, and there was Pogačar’s bike he used at a couple of stages at the Tour. He signed it, and I have his jersey, too,” Bottas confirmed.
Both racers face pressures, Cromwell in guiding her team mates - often taking on the role of team captain - after 12 years in the sport, and Bottas having shouldered the responsibility of being second driver to seven time F1 champion, Lewis Hamilton. However, both appear to be in a place that allows them to compete at the highest level, whilst maintaining equilibrium mentally.
“For me, it's all about being mentally happy. If I am mentally happy, then I perform well. I think I’ve found a really good balance,” Cromwell says. Evidently, it's working.
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Myles Warwood is a cycling journalist, automotive journalist and videographer. He writes for Cycling Weekly, Cyclist and Car magazine.