Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) accepts that there is still a long way to go for women's cycling but the introduction of a full Ardennes programme next year is a big step in the right direction. Since 1998, the women's peloton has been competing in their own La Fleche Wallonne and, for a brief run, they had an Amstel Gold Race.
The 2017 season sees the Amstel Gold Race come back after a 14-year hiatus, and the first-ever women's Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Their Ardennes week will run concurrently with the men's equivalent.
"To have a full Ardennes week is exciting for the sport and it's exciting to know that we are getting that platform and showing that we deserve that platform," Cromwell told Cyclingnews. "It’s exciting, that's the best way to put it. There's this whole thing about we need to have the women’s side of the sport develop as their own sport and not always be compared to the men but, in terms of the big races, they're the races that everyone knows about.
"We’ve seen a lot of progression in the last four years. There’s still a lot of work to do in women’s cycling but it's taking the right steps forward."
Cromwell was speaking to Cyclingnews before the new women's WorldTour calendar was officially announced and there was still speculation around a possible multi-day women’s Tour de France. Ultimately, that didn’t happen and while it moved to a mountainous parcours, La Course remained a single day. The change, which will see the women finish part way up the Col d’Izoard although after only 67 kilometres, received a relatively good reception but the ultimate goal remains a multi-day race.
"To have a mini-women's Tour de France would be huge," Cromwell said. “For me, if I meet a random person on the street and they find out I’m a bike rider you get two questions normally. Have you been to the Olympics or the Tour de France? Everybody knows the Tour de France. You say, ‘Yeah I do that sort of thing'. But, to be able to say that you have that, and know that there is a want and a need for it, is good."
All these changes and additions to the WorldTour calendar has had some repercussions further down the calendar. Liege-Bastogne-Liege’s inclusion forced the Dwars door de Westhoek organisers into a mad scramble for a new date while Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen had to move to accommodate La Course's new date. Both races reacted badly to the news, although the lateness of the announcement probably helped to add oil to that particular fire. Cromwell believes it is about finding a balance in the calendar, to retain the long-standing events, but priority needs to be given to the races that will give the women’s peloton the biggest platform.
"We need to remember about the races that have been there for the long-run. We also have to think about the marketing and the accessibility of the sport. If we have the stage and the exposure, then we want to have those races and we want to have them at the same time as the men because that’s when everyone is watching and that is the only way we can grow the sport,” explained Cromwell.
"If we have to move a race slightly, as long as we're not losing it entirely, then it’s not so bad. If we can all work together to make it so that we have a big calendar because if we can get the big races then hopefully with women’s cycling growing those races can gain greater exposure too due to the fact that the sport is getting bigger.”
Cromwell's biggest focus for next season will be just ahead of the Ardennes week over on the other side of Belgium. “I definitely want to make the Flanders Classics hard and have a really consistent spring campaign.
"The season started super well for me with a medal at the nationals and being on the podium at Het Nieuwsblad and then I had a really rough couple of months. My head wasn’t in the game and I wasn’t really performing,” she added. “Missing out on the Olympics, when I quite vocally put it out there as a big goal, was a disappointment but then I bounced right back and got a stage win at the Giro. That was nice and good for my confidence because it had been a long time since I'd won a bike race too.
"Overall, I can be happy but I still want so much more."