One of the most respected members of the peloton, Tiffany Cromwell has been a professional cyclist since 2010, spending nine years at Canyon-SRAM, where her role has morphed from an opportunist, to road captain, and now a gravel rider. Along with her partner, F1 driver Valteri Bottas, she is behind the GRVL series of races - SBT, FNLND and most recently RADL. She spoke to Cycling Weekly at the Tour Down Under, where she finished as the best South Australian.
What was your first bike?
It was a Malvern Star, I think I have pictures of me with it when I was like five.
When did you properly get into cycling?
Cycling was in my family. I always say cycling found me. Sure, as a kid you'd roam around on bikes and stuff, but racing wasn't cool when I started. It was talent search that found me. I went to a velodrome and it was like 'no brakes, don't go too slow on the corners'. Even then, I came from basketball, which was a team sport, and cycling wasn't, so I did it as something to do. I didn't love it, because I was tiny. It was only when I tried on the road, then I started to get the bug. I started to enjoy cycling more and basketball less.
What was the first race you ever watched?
Tour Down Under. I knew nothing, maybe I'd heard of the Tour de France, but the TDU was here on home roads. We came out and watched it, I remember a Barossa stage which was flipping hot.
Who was your cycling hero growing up?
I want to say Stuart O'Grady. Because women's cycling at that time definitely wasn't big. I didn't know any of those guys, the first one I knew was Sara Carrigan when she won gold at the Athens Olympics. Stuey was a hometown hero, I just remember him always being there, and I asked him for his autograph.
As a young rider, we'd hear Luke Roberts and Stuart were back, but they never came for our group rides, which felt weird then, but now I understand. Nowadays it's full circle, because he's running the Tour Down Under and I'm racing it. I'm not shy anymore.
Was there a race when everything clicked?
Already as a junior, I was good enough to go to the World Championships at that level. As a junior, I wasn't a winner, there was always a couple of other girls who were a bit more developed than me. I just loved racing. The first year I did the Geelong Tour, I was either last year junior or first year pro, and I was the best young rider. I remember I was on the podium alongside Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, I was intimidated and very scared of her. I didn't think it was going to happen and then bam and I got my break. I went from the doors shutting to all the doors opening.
What’s the best place your career has taken you?
Everywhere. I've been super fortunate that not only I've been able to go places with racing, but also through sponsor activities. When Rapha was our sponsor we got to go to Japan and Korea. Cycling has given me the opportunity to move country too, which has been incredible. Being based in the south of France, I never thought I'd end up there. I've been very fortunate, all over the world.
How has your role changed at Canyon-SRAM?
It has been a journey. Sometimes, change has been necessary, sometimes it has made sense. I was lucky to come in at the start. I will win once in a season, maybe when I'm lucky twice. At this team there have always been opportunities, I was never just the lead rider. I've changed from being a climber, to a one-day racer, to becoming a bit of a sprinter, challenging Kirsten Wild.
Of course, sometimes you can get a bit too comfortable in a team, and there were years where I felt a bit lost, but the team has always believed in me. I'm a teammate you can rely on. No matter how good or bad I'm feeling, if I have a job to do, I'll do it. That's definitely valued, that's what teams want. Then I went a bit more into a team captain role. I've not always been confident in my own abilities, I can tell other people what to do. It just made sense. The wins I've got have always come from opportunities, rather than being that lead rider. I'm comfortable now, helping mentor younger riders.
If you weren't cycling, what would you do?
I always joke that if I wasn't a pro cyclist I'd love to be a pro surfer or snowboarder. One can dream. Potentially fashion, or anything within the design space would be something I'd like to do.
How different will the peloton be without Annemiek van Vleuten?
There's a great depth within women's cycling now. She's one rider, and she was phenomenal in what she achieved. It just means that some of the stage races will be a bit more open, but then you have SD Worx and Demi [Vollering]. She's equally as good, if not better. Van Vleuten was an incredible time triallist and climber, but some of the other riders are more than a one-trick pony. It will be different, we don't have to worry about Van Vleuten attacking at 100km to go and holding us off. It will be weird, but there are plenty of others to worry about.
How do you deal with SD Worx's dominance?
If you go in with the mentality that they're going to win, you're not going to win. Last year, Canyon-SRAM really stepped up as a team, we've always been thereabouts, but now we've got a really good group. There's Kasia [Niewiadoma], who's always reliable and competitive, but then there's Ricarda [Bauernfeind] who got her huge win [at the Tour de France Femmes]. There's Antonia [Niedermaier], she's a humongous talent, and Neve [Bradbury] now.
I could list everyone on the team. Everyone brings something. SD Worx have incredible talent, and any of their riders can win, but the more we step up and not allow them to dictate the race, put them under pressure, then we can take races. It often went their way last year, teams did the work for them, rather than making them pull.
It's not that easy, and when you have that much talent it's hard to deal with. They would always have the numbers when it counted, while others would have one or two left. They will still be one of the strongest teams, but Lidl-Trek can take them on, and us. Hopefully more teams will win this year.
What's your favourite thing to do away from the bike?
I do love to travel. Doing stuff with Valteri [Bottas], and enjoying new places. I've just started to surf, so that's a new hobby, and designing. Going for coffee, restaurants, and just enjoying where I am.
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