Tiffany Cromwell doesn't consider herself to be a pioneer of gravel riding but she aims to bring her competitive edge to the popular off-road discipline in a 10-event gravel racing calendar that tentatively includes Unbound, The Rift, and a few events that are part of the Belgian Waffle.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Cromwell spoke candidly about her desire to breathe new energy into her racing career, that began more than 10 years ago, and that gravel racing ticked the boxes when it came to her and Canyon-SRAM's ambitions.
"Canyon-SRAM could see my importance on the road but also my potential to add a new dimension to the team and they proposed the idea of racing some gravel. I’m still doing a road season, not a full road season, but also doing some gravel races. It’s a massive market that is growing and it’s getting bigger every year. For Canyon and SRAM, it’s an area they are all dabbling in and it made sense for someone in the Canyon-SRAM colours to be racing on the gravel," Cromwell told Cyclingnews.
"I’ve been racing a long time on the road and gravel gives me something new, new energy, and it will help my road racing. What you need in gravel is a lot of long races, power on the pedals and it helps me keep my strength on the flats.
"I was quite interested because I’m always open to news ideas and doing something different. Gravel is hard, and it’s raced hard, but it’s not as intense and there’s an element of fun to it. I can balance going into road races with seriousness and top-three goals, but with gravel, I can race hard while the feeling and atmosphere are a bit more relaxed."
Cromwell likes the adventure that gravel racing offers; long routes, unpredictable terrain and a test of one's limits on the bike. She also said that the discipline has a free-spirit quality to it that she finds compelling.
"It’s different. We always joke about ending up on a dirt road; cross training, I like the idea behind it. Gravel offers something for those who don’t want to hardcore mountain bike, but who also don’t want to be on the road all the time. It opens up adventure, and that element is cool," Cromwell said.
"Gravel racing is also cool with a free-spirit-type atmosphere where everyone respects each other, wants to have a good time, but also push one another. The riders at the front will go out and race each other to the line but then others just want to enjoy themselves.
"I like the connection that it has with the community, and that you can race, but also enjoy it. It’s just something completely different for me and I'm not doing the same thing year-in-year-out. It allows me to think differently. It also allows me to keep my energy and be ready to take on the road races."
Cromwell aims to be competitive during roughly 10 gravel events around the world, a schedule that is set to begin following the Spring Classics.
Her calendar is tentative and depends on travel and the current restrictions surrounding COVID-19, in addition, The Rift in Iceland and Grinduro Wales overlap on July 24 and Cromwell hasn't decided which will be the one she races.
"The goal is to be competitive and gravel opens a new opportunity to be one of the best. On the road, I haven’t had that opportunity in some years, part of that is me and the role I play on the team," Cromwell said.
"I still want to target victories and have that feeling of big dreams. Gravel is a great discipline and it’s getting stronger every year. I want to be one of the ones that helps this trend. I’m not a pioneer but I want to go out there and dominate the gravel scene."
Along with the community aspects that gravel racing showcases, Cromwell also said that she likes the equality that many gravel races bring to their events whereby men and women begin on the same start line, race the same routes and organisers, more and more, are offering equal prize money.
"It’s fantastic that gravel has been inclusive from the start, and so many race organisers are working to have equality. A race that everyone can participate in, depending on what level you want to be at, but everyone starts on the same starting line on a grid, you all role out together and it’s got a real community spirit. It’s a great way to connect with fans, be part of a community, and inspire people." Cromwell said.
Cromwell highlighted the work of the organisers of SBT GRVL, one of the premier gravel races in the US, set to take place in Steamboat Springs on August 15. They have taken the decision to split their prize purse equally between male and female competitors in 2021.
Two years ago, organisers were disappointed to find that mostly male riders signed up to race in the inaugural edition, and so in order to increase female participation they opened an additional 200 spots for women and promoted as #SBTParity, which sold out.
Along with providing equal prize money and start spots, the SBT GRVL is also partnering with Ride For Racial Justice in order to provide better race access for BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) entrants this year. The initiative secures 25 guaranteed race spots and also covers race entry fees, financial assistance to each of the 25 athletes to help cover costs related to transportation, lodging, coaching services, mentorship, and gear to compete in the race.
"It's what I like about it, too, equal distances, prize money, supporting the push to keep spots open for the women, and that was one of SBT GRVL’s vision, to have equal prize money and equal opportunity for start positions, to eventually have an equal field for men and women," Cromwell said.
Cyclingnews will be checking in with Cromwell after each event for her perspective on racing in the international gravel scene.
|June 5, 2021||Unbound Gravel|
|July 18, 2021||San Diego Belgian Waffle|
|July 24, 2021||Grinduro Wales|
|July 24, 2021||The Rift|
|August 15, 2021||SBT GRVL|
|August 21, 2021||Asheville Belgian Waffle|
|October 2, 2021||Grinduro Switzerland|
|October 23, 2021||Big Sugar Gravel|
|October 31, 2021||Lawrence Belgian Waffle|
|December 4, 2021||Grinduro Australia|
Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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