When Tiffany Cromwell arrived back in Australia during the off-season a week ahead of her still-in-transit bike, she came up with creative ways to build fitness ahead of the Tour of Margaret River pro-am event.
Her varied slate of activities included yoga, hiking and a competitive paddle boarding race, but on the seventh day, Cromwell took on a discipline that might prove something of an omen for the year to come – the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, which combines elements of dance and acrobatics.
The Rio Olympic Games loom large on the horizon of Cromwell’s 2016, of course, and after the disappointment of missing out on selection for the London Olympics four years ago, she is determined to make amends this time around. Based on her performances over the intervening period, certainly, it would be a surprise if Cromwell weren’t on the plane to Brazil come August.
“I’m in a lot better position to make the selection this time around than when I was coming in to London,” Cromwell told Cyclingnews at the Ladies Tour of Qatar this week. “It’s never a given that you’re going to make the team, and Australia has good strength in depth now, but I just have to do what I have to do – I have to perform in the right races this year.
“I’m in a really good headspace coming into the season and I’m very motivated having come so close to London, so maybe I’m more hungry to get to the start line in Rio and compete for that gold medal.”
Although there was no women’s test event for the Olympic road race last August, Cromwell travelled to Rio with the Australian men’s team in order to reconnoitre a course that is even tougher in practice than on paper. The final climb of the Vista Chinesa, Cromwell says, is “like Mur de Huy times four. That’s the best way to put it.” But like a good capoeirista, the eventual gold medallist will ultimately have to possess a particularly varied skillset.
“It’s either going to obliterate the field if someone goes super hard from the bottom, or else it’ll be raced conservatively because everyone’s afraid of getting dropped,” she said. “But there’s quite a technical descent off it, so if you get to the top against climbers who can’t descend, you could win the race there. The course is for a climber, but an all-rounder too – you really need to be a complete bike rider who has that climbing ability.”
Classics in mind
Cromwell is currently in Qatar for her first true outing as part of the Canyon-SRAM squad, having been the team’s lone representative at the Australian national championships and then competed as part of composite selections at the Santos Women’s Tour and Cadel Evans Ocean Race.
“I’m a lot further ahead than I was this time last year,” Cromwell said of her brief Australian summer. “I had a bit of a different approach this year in that I stayed very much training through November and December, and didn’t do any criteriums. I did the Australian championships to start the season, and a bronze medal in the time trial was a goal ticked.
“In the road race, the Tour Down Under and Cadel’s race, I was very much on my own, but to be there fighting and going with the attacks gives me confidence for going back to Europe with my team.”
The Australian was to the fore on stage 3 in Qatar, helping teammate Trixi Worrack into the overall lead after driving the decisive break that availed of the crosswinds to forge clear inside the opening two kilometres. For Cromwell, a top 10 finish here augurs well for her prospects in the Spring Classics.
My first big goals are Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, [Trofeo] Alredo Binda, the Tour of Flanders and Ronde van Drenthe, all of the classics. We have a big race every weekend for five weeks up until Flanders, sometimes two,” Cromwell said, pointing, too, to one benefit of the new UCI Women’s WorldTour.
“It’s great that we can do both Gent-Wevelgem and Binda now because they’re both WorldTour and not clashing anymore. Gent-Wevelgem is a race I’ve always wanted to do but it was always the same day as Binda, and that was a World Cup race. It’s the perfect warm-up to Flanders, and that’s always a goal of mine.”
While the early summer will, Cromwell hopes, be all about preparing for Rio – “May is going to be really, really important for getting that recovery to peak for the Olympics” – there is a world beyond August 7 too.
The opening stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar served as the test event for the World Championships road race in Doha, for instance, and if the road race on the sinuous Pearl circuit ought to be, as Cromwell put it, “a giant criterium, a race of concentration,” then the preceding weekend’s team time trial, which is also set to incorporate the Pearl circuit, will require even greater dexterity – not unlike Rio, in fact.
“Putting a team time trial on a course that technical is a whole other level again,” Cromwell said. “It’s not going to be just about the technique and being as fast as possible, it’s going to be about bike handling and keeping speed in and out of corners.
“But in Qatar you wouldn’t expect anything less than for them to try to create something different, over the top, extravagant.”