2017 was a rollercoaster of a year for Canyon SRAM's Tiffany Cromwell, with periods in which she was over-raced and burdened with self-doubts, but the Australian rallied, winning her first race of the year in July after rediscovering her mojo.
"I was hoping that the season would start better than it did but then I had a massive slump around California in May," she told Cyclingnews.
"I took a step back, revisited things and then the backend was a lot better with getting a win in the pocket. The form was coming in the final two months but there weren't any major highlights."
Going into her second season in Canyon colours, the 29-year-old was marked down as one of the team's most dependable and experienced road captains. However, when the team's already thin roster began to weaken due to injuries and illnesses, Cromwell found herself going from race to race without a picture-perfect race plan, and without periods of rest or training in between.
"We had a few injuries and illnesses, so my programme kept changing. I wasn't hitting my early targets and I think I was just racing too much when I really just needed to take a step back and do the training periods. I was fine with coming in for races but having those training blocks would have been better. That's what I did in the second half of the year and that's really what I needed."
Before regaining form and confidence Cromwell's season hit bottom at the Tour of California in May. She quit the race on stage 1 and what followed was a revaluation of her season. She took a step back, headed home to Europe and tried to figure out her next move.
"It wasn't that bad," she said when asked if she considered quitting the sport altogether.
However, Cromwell's battle appeared to be more mental than physical this season.
"It's my head. I've always been a hard trainer but with some athletes, their heads can get lost and I have got lost a few times. I don't know. I try and work it out and I know I'm not the best communicator. I guess I'm still trying to answer that question but I keep good people around me. Maybe when you spend a lot of time by yourself, and I live alone, maybe you can go in different directions. It's also a confidence thing. A lot of people think that I'm a really confident person but I think it's about keeping away from negative influences."
After a timeout, some support from her team and the necessary training blocks that she needed, Cromwell returned to racing in June and finished just shy of the top ten in the Women's Tour.
A month later and she had her first victory of the season at the Ladies Tour in Germany.
"You have your ups and downs," she says.
"For me, it's about having the balance on and off the bike. It's a very fine line for me. We had a lot of changes this year and maybe it took a while for us to get going as a team. It took some time but we finally got the results on the board. We were just missing a few things, and we brought in Pauline [Ferrand-Prevot] this year as a proven winner and she took a bit of time to find her feet. As a package, there wasn't this winning atmosphere and we couldn't get the ball rolling. Once we did, it was great.
"That win brought me back on track and gave me belief. It also gave the team belief that I also had that ability still. It gave me the confidence and all of sudden the fitness was better, the morale was better and things clicked. I'm someone who, if their head isn't in the right place, then it's different. I think I just needed to get that love back and that hunger, which I'd lost a little bit."
Cromwell and her team have yet to finalise her racing programme for 2018. She will remain in Europe and train during most of the winter but will begin her racing campaign in Australia with the Nationals, Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans race. The Commonwealth Games are also on her to-do list. As for balance and outlook on racing, she appears positive for the future.
"I'm human, and it comes down to how you handle things. I feel that as I get older I'll get better but we'll see."
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