In a press release issued by the team, Cromwell described her come-from-behind victory over Flavia Oliveira. The women started 10 minutes behind the men, and Cromwell finished faster than all but 39 riders of the full 'Waffle' distance of 111 miles/179 kilometres.
"That was a really nice way to finish the season," Cromwell said. "I'm not going to lie. The result was a bit of a surprise! I was nervous going into the race as my preparation hasn't been amazing. After Paris-Roubaix Femmes, I could feel I was tired mentally and physically. I've kept training but it's been overall shorter rides with less intensity. Turns out, the freshness and a long season of racing in the legs definitely helped me get through the 180km race."
After controversy earlier in the summer surrounding women being assisted by male teammates in the mass-start gravel races, the Belgian Waffle Ride organisers started the women ten minutes behind the men, which Cromwell said changed the dynamic and worked in her favour.
"The start was hard, but not crazy like when we all start together," Cromwell explained. "Already after 30km or thereabouts we had a group of three of us at the front. With the lack of high intensity in the last weeks, I really had to dig deep and my heart rate was super high for a long time. I was thinking to myself that I couldn't stay 180km at this effort. Still, I could stick with the other two riders and we worked together. Hannah (Shell) dropped from our group and then I had to let Flavia Oliveira go ahead on a small climb and keep my pace.
"The race was really good at giving updates on time splits, so I always knew where I was standing. There were strong winds with a lot of head and crosswinds in the first half. After 50km, I was alone and then we started to catch some groups from the men's Waffle. Whenever I caught a group, I was able to use them to get a little bit of respite from the wind, but then I would continue past to go a slightly higher pace."
Halfway through the race, Cromwell had Oliveira in sight and was able to catch and pass her but the ride to victory was not a smooth one.
"I knew I had to keep the power on the pedals, but with a mix of wind and the relentless undulating hills, I was fatiguing. With 40km to go, I really hit the wall. I had tried to focus on my fuelling but the lack of it caught up with me. I went into rescue mode and ate and drank every gel and carbo drink I could get my hands on. My energy came back and I got my second life for the last 20km and was able to power my way to the finish line."
"Despite the race being far longer than I like, it was a fun course. A lot of gravel, all in good condition, mixed with some fun singletrack. They put in a cyclo-cross sector for something different and if you get to see a video of me doing it you'll see how tired I really was," laughed Cromwell.
"The last 6km were a fast and flowing single track and a lot of fun! When I came out of that and saw 1km to go I was happy. I finished the race empty and tired but also satisfied and ready for the off season."
Cromwell announced last week she would extend her career and remain with Canyon-SRAM, mixing road and gravel racing through 2023.
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