Tiffany Cromwell might just be in the form of her career. The 24-year-old from Adelaide will lead the Australian women's team for Saturday's road race at the UCI World Championships in Limburg with a heightened confidence off the back of an inspired season with Orica-AIS.
The 128.8 kilometre course is well-suited to Cromwell's strengths and abilities. Cromwell, along with teammates Amanda Spratt, Gracie Elvin, Rachel Neylan, Jessie Maclean and Loren Rowney have now joined Shara Gillow in Holland with the latter travelling early to compete in the time trials. After a relaxed preparation in Varese under the guidance of David McPartland, the team is ready and as Cromwell says, "the hard work has been done."
Cromwell didn't really have a choice heading into the 2012 season. 2011 had been "a massive mess" having left Lotto-Honda, Cromwell thought about hanging up the bike, before joining Hitec Products-UCK. Now with Orica-AIS, Cromwell has found her perfect fit.
"I think it was a move that I needed," she told Cyclingnews. "To come in to a team that's well-organised, professional, a good group of girls - it's not about one rider, ever. It's a team where everybody gets an opportunity. It's brought out the best in me."
The back half of Cromwell's season has been a stand-out after several close calls including her second career top 10 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, top 10 at GP Elsy Jacobs; then came the breakthrough. After over 100km solo, Cromwell won the fifth stage of the Giro Donne - it was her first victory since 2009.
It was too late to force her way into selection for the Olympic team but Cromwell dismisses the idea that missing out on the three-woman team fuelled what was to come. Instead she kept doing what she had been doing.
"It was always going to be difficult," Cromwell admits. "They [selectors] went for the sprinter, the time trialist and the opportunist / worker. It was always going to be close between Spratty and myself because our results had been so similar and we're similar in terms of our riding style. It went to Spratty. I have full respect for her.
"Everybody wants to go to the Olympics," Cromwell continued. "It would have been a great opportunity. I was a little bit disappointed at first but I put it behind me. I focused on what I could focus on. I just got back to business and racing my bike. It's worked. I've got the best results that I've had in my career this year."
Cromwell let loose at GP Plouay, forcing the definitive split on the penultimate lap and eventually finishing second to Marianne Vos. The result lifted Cromwell to ninth in the final World Cup standings of the season but she was not done yet. Earlier this month, Crowell finished eighth overall at the Giro della Toscana Int. Femminile.
A careful analysis of the parcours and her competitors leaves Cromwell with the feeling that it may be only one or two riders will be fighting it out to the finish line after the Cauberg on Saturday. The race is there to be attacked and Cromwell, in her third world championship appearance, believes Australia has just the team to do it with.
"I think we will still be looked at as underdogs," Cromwell said. "Certainly I'm going to be a little bit more marked now with the late results.
"I look at our team as more of an opportunistic team; we're not the most experienced team. For half the team this is their first world championships. Cycling Australia is looking at developing for the future. We've got quite a few different cards we can play. It's a versatile team. We're not favourites but I think we can surprise a few people."
Cromwell knows that a top 10 is well within her reach - "... but top five would be great. A podium would be amazing. You can aim high; you've got nothing to lose."
If her season has been steadily building towards this world championships race, Cromwell won't be one to let the occasion get under her skin and it's an attitude that she hopes will resonate with her teammates, despite three of them making their debut.
"Basically it's just another race; it just has a striped jersey at the end - which obviously is pretty cool to win," she admits.
"You can't be afraid to not finish. You just need to do your job and get out of there."
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