Tiffany Cromwell has been a firm feature at the top of women's cycling for the best part of a decade. The Canyon-SRAM rider turned 30 this year, and while that's still considered young in the grand scheme of things, there comes a time in every rider's career when they start to think about what comes next.
At times, retirement can feel like a dirty word in cycling. Riders often brush the idea aside as if it might bring them bad fortune, but Cromwell is not afraid to discuss it. The Australian doesn't know when she will hang up her wheels. It could be in two years or 10, but what she does know is that she wants it to be on her own terms.
"I don't want to be one of these riders that keeps going and then just fizzles out," she tells Cyclingnews. "I want to say, 'This is it and I put all the energy into that,' and then draw the line because you do see riders who eventually stop, but it is past the point of when they’ve stopped enjoying it. I just don’t want to be in that position."
Cromwell is still enjoying cycling, racing for a top team and helping her teammates. However, she's been in this game for a while and finding the motivation doesn't always come as easily. At the moment, her plans are geared around preparing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and she'll decide her next steps after that. Going to the Games is a huge goal for Cromwell, who's never taken part in the Olympics before.
"I've been in the sport for a long time. Part of me feels like I'm on the younger side because you can go well into your 30s, but eventually I do want to do something else," she explains. "We usually target things like the Olympics, and 2020 is the next Olympics and it's still one thing that's missing from what I've done in my cycling career.
"I've got some boxes that I want to tick along the way still as well, but the further you get along in your career, the more your motivation changes. When you're younger, you just want to race and impress, but then the pressure gets higher and it's more about the winning. Don't get me wrong, I have a fantastic team. I've changed my style of riding and this year I've played a bit more of a support role. I enjoy that aspect a lot of the time, but you still want that winning feeling as well. I go through my phases, I guess you could say."
Planning for the future and the Flanders World Championships
Perhaps one of the reasons that Cromwell isn't afraid to talk about retirement is that she already has a brain full of ideas about what she might do next. The next step doesn't scare her and actually excites her, because it is an opportunity to try something new. The hardest part will be deciding exactly what it is that she wants to do.
"I'm still enjoying the cycling but there are times when I'm definitely thinking about what I'll do next," Cromwell says. "I've got thousands of ideas. I've been smart about what I've been doing with my cycling in recent years, like building my relationships with some of the brand partners, like with Rapha, for example, and having a good relationship with Canyon. Working in fashion is one thing I've always been interested in.
"I can see myself working with people like them or maybe exiting the field completely because I've been lucky to meet fantastic people from all walks of life throughout my career. I'm torn about whether I want to stay in the cycling world. I've thought about bespoke travel experiences and stuff like that, where you can create crazy, out-of-this-world experiences. Or maybe doing a little coffee shop – all sorts of things."
Cromwell could decide to hang up her wheels after 2020, but there are a few events on the horizon that might persuade her to keep going beyond that. The 2022 UCI Road World Championships are coming to Australia, for example, having been recently awarded to Wollongong in New South Wales, while the 2021 Worlds in Flanders, Belgium, has also piqued her interest. The Belgian cobbles have been a home from home for Cromwell, and it's somewhere that gets her racing juices flowing.
"I don't know what I'm doing in 2021. I've got everything sorted until 2020, and then I'll decide if I want to keep racing if I can, but then I saw that the 2021 Worlds are in Flanders, and I thought that maybe I do want to keep riding," Cromwell tells Cyclingnews. "That would be incredible. I read it will be the 100th World Championships, too. Flanders is the unofficial World Championships as it is, so having that as a world title would be awesome.
"I look at that and think that's my cup of tea. Those are the kind of races that I love – the ones that I get really motivated to perform in and the ones that I know I can perform in. When I have those kinds of goals, that's good for me."
For now, the off-season and her 2019 campaign are more pressing concerns for Cromwell. This year, she has been more of a support rider and is looking to have a bit more of her own success as she builds up towards the Olympic year. This has meant a few changes to her programme, including skipping the Australian races for the first time in years.
"I want to get back to being on the podium. That’s one big thing – keeping the motivation high," Cromwell says. "I do look to the World Championships in Yorkshire [next year], and I think that it suits me, and that will be an incredible World Championships. For sure, that's the long-term goal of the season. I do want to target that and have a crack at it.
"We've decided to maybe start the season a bit later – like, I won't do the Australian season next year. The team isn't coming out for starters, and it is a lot to do in January. As much as I love it, it's so much already in January, and by the Classics you're already spent. We thought that I'd ease into it and then hit the Classics hard."