“It’s not the big target, but I want to start well,” she told Cyclingnews ahead of this weekend's race in Ghent. “It’s a race that I love, especially having won it, it holds a special place for me. But I also love the characteristics of this race. It’s very similar to Flanders, but without as much hype. There are still a lot of cobbles, a lot of climbs, and it’s the first race of the European season… I love the classics, they’re my favourite time of the season, and I think if you can start well here then it sets you up for the whole spring.
“Okay, if you win here then maybe you’re not going to be as good by the time you get to Flanders because it’s still a long time, but if you can get a good result, get that confidence early and know where you stand then you can build on that form."
Cromwell is a little more cautious this season at peaking so early in the year with some major targets down the line. The Australian has her eyes set on a spot at the Olympic Games in Rio and knows that she needs to time things right if she wants to hit a sweet-spot of form in August.
“I always come to Het Nieuwsblad knowing that it’s a race I’m motivated for, and I want to do well. I’ve always come off the Australian summer, so I’m usually a bit further ahead of the others, but this year the big target is the Olympics in August so you can’t be flying now because you won’t be able to hold it until August. And if you then go on to the Worlds, that’s in October, so it’s a very long season.
“I’d love to win the race again, for sure, but I know I’m not at my absolute peak. I know my form’s good, though, and coming off the success we had in Qatar with the team I’m hoping we can keep that rolling.
The finish to the 2016 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a little different this year, with an uphill element to the finale. The news is not of huge concern to Cromwell. “It had a bit of an uphill before,” she said, “but there’s now a right-hand corner now at 200 metres to go so that changes things.
“Usually, this race seems to come down to a small group with a bigger chase group. It tends to stay together until the Cote de Trieu, which is the point where it first strings out, and the first splits are made. Then you get the farm roads into the Paterberg, and that’s the most critical point of the race every year.
“History suggests too that, being an Olympic year, everyone’s level goes up producing harder races, so I think it will start being selective and bring together 20-30 riders, and then it will be ones and twos with a bigger chase group.”
Omloop is just the beginning of a hectic schedule for Cromwell, who came third in the Australian national time trial in January, throughout the spring. Her schedule is packed with a series of one-day races. Omloop Van Het Hageland follows Het Nieuwsblad, and then a recon of the Tour of Flanders route, and appearances at Strade Bianche, Drenthe and Drenthe 8.
“Then we’ve got Binda, which has moved forward a week, and the Gent-Wevelgem, which is super-cool because those races always clashed before so most people would do Binda for the World Cup points but now we can do both," explained Cromwell. "Then it’s Flanders; then it eases off a little before we end at Fleche. I’ve done the training; it’s full gas until Fleche from now.
“The most important thing is to try to stay healthy and not overdo it, because when you’re racing every week, it becomes more about recovery than training."