The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so the adage goes, and the 42.195 kilometres of a marathon are usually prefixed by a steady accumulation of training runs. Not so for Tiffany Cromwell.
After wrapping up her 2012 season at the world championships in Valkenburg last September, the Orica-AIS rider decided to take aim at the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, near her European base in Monaco, scarcely a month later and on a severely limited diet of training miles.
"I told myself I would be able to train for a month from the Worlds onwards, but I didn't quite do that," Cromwell admitted, explaining that she totalled a mere 80 kilometres in training beforehand. "I did a week of good training but my ankles and knees didn't like it, so I didn't run for 10 days after that. I did manage a 5k run three days before it, but luckily I had the base endurance from cycling to do it."
In the event, Cromwell managed a creditable 3:37 and shortly afterwards, she was back in formal preparation for the Australian championships in mid-January. "It was just fun to do something a little different instead of being totally bike-focused," she said. "I think that's how you get on top of things and avoid getting burnt out."
Given her active off-season, it's perhaps not surprising that Cromwell has hit the ground running in 2013. Fresh from the Antipodean summer, Cromwell and her Orica-AIS teammates have been the principal aggressors at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, taking advantage of the peninsula's gusty conditions to split the peloton on the opening two stages. Two days in, Cromwell is one of three Orica riders in the top seven places overall.
"We don't have an outright sprinter here, so obviously we rely more on the wind to take an advantage," said Cromwell, reminding Cyclingnews that the same mindset propelled her former teammate Judith Arndt to victory in Qatar 12 months ago. "Last year, we put our faces in the wind and went out there and made it a hard race and ended up winning it without an outright sprinter. You can do it if play to your strengths when the chance presents itself."
Beyond the next two days of racing in the Gulf, Cromwell is hopeful that she can make an impact in the spring classics and pick up where she left off at least year's Giro Donne, where she took a solo stage win in Molinella and finished 11th overall. Those steps all lead on to the season's long-term goal, which is also on Italian roads, at the world championships in Florence.
"I went to see the course after the Giro Toscana last year and I know that it's going to be much more of a hill climber's course so I'd like to have more of a leadership role," she said. "It's hard to say because we'll take a team that's going to be strong and competitive, but so much can happen at the Worlds if you can get in the right move."
While the 24-year-old Cromwell continues her progress in the international peloton, women's cycling as a whole is also striving to develop and increase its profile. The recently-retired Nicole Cooke issued a withering verdict on the UCI's efforts to aid women's cycling over the past decade, and while Cromwell can appreciate the Briton's concerns, she acknowledges that change is not something that can come about overnight.
"It was certainly a very outspoken piece. She said what she thought and it was certainly brave of her to go out there and say it," Cromwell said. "It's still such a new sport compared to the men's sport, so growth takes time. Of course there are things that can improve, but I think there's a change coming already and you can see it, even just with things like the live television coverage here in Qatar.
"I think it's taking steps in the right direction, even if I'll be the first to admit that it has a long, long way to go, especially in terms of making a living and stressing over whether we'll earn enough money to survive after cycling."
Among the ideas considered to aid the promotion of women's cycling is that of holding women's events in tandem with existing men's races. The infrastructure and exposure offered by the women's Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne are cases in point, and while Cromwell notes that "you still want to be able to establish women's cycling for the fantastic sport that it is by itself," there is one particular brand that would add special cachet to the sport.
"When you tell people from outside the sport that you've raced the women's Giro d'Italia, they can appreciate what that means, so from that point of view, it would be fantastic to have a real women's Tour de France again," she said. "You can talk so much about what could be done, but it's really about getting pro-active and actually doing it."