For Tiff Comwell, the ambition for the 2016 season is clear. Earn selection for the Rio Olympic Games with a good start to the season at the Australian national championships and the Classics before turning her attention to the tough road race circuit that finishes on the iconic Copacabana beach front.
27-year-old Cromwell was on the long list for the 2012 London Olympic road race team after a late but unsuccessful push for selection. Having come close, Cromwell explained to Cyclingnews from that moment on she was focused on making the Rio team regardless of the parcours.
"As soon as I knew I didn’t make London, I was like ‘Rio is a big target’ and it's been a four year build. Just getting better as rider and learning about myself as a rider, experiment about myself and making sure I get everything right," Cromwell said. "When it came to London, I came in a bit later having a pretty bad 2011 season and then starting 2012 really well. This time I’ve been right among the mix of the riders they are looking at. Going there [Cromwell visited Brazil earlier this year] and seeing it gave me a lot of excitement and a huge amount of motivation to be in my best shape for that course."
Last year Cromwell was voted the Australian female cyclist of the year with fifth at the 2014 Worlds a season highlight. The 2015 season in comparison was one that Cromwell describes as "interesting".
"I’d say I was consistent but I wasn’t satisfied," she expanded. "I was always there, I was always around the mark. From a team point of view we were really successful. Obviously we had a lot of victories and I was a part of that, but for me personally I didn’t quite get the results I was hoping for. I was hoping for a few more podiums or individual victories but then there are other areas like becoming more consistent and having some stronger results like a podium at the Giro. That was nice and it's trying to find that extra bit which takes me from a top-ten rider to top-three, top-five riders."
Cromwell faced a stressful end to the 2015 season with the announcement her Velocio-SRAM team would be pulling up stumps as years end. In the weeks that followed, sport director Ronny Lauke announced he would be launching a new team next year with Canyon Bicycles as the title sponsor, retaining several riders from Velocio-SRAM including Cromwell.
"I am not expecting a huge differences and that was one of a major reasons why I did sign on with the new project as going into an Olympic year you don’t want to make drastic changes," she said of signing with the team. "If you go to new team completely from scratch then sometimes it can take a while to find your feet whereas I think the group of riders for next year is really exciting. We have a lot of the core group staying together and new riders coming on which I think will be good. It’s going to be exciting having a new team involved, new sponsors coming to the women’s side of the sport."
"The biggest change will be how the team is run. Everything else will be very similar as a lot of the background staff will be same and the core riders will be the same like I said. I am really excited with some of the things I am hearing and the sponsors we have involved, it’s going to be a really good project and one to keep you motivated, striving for bigger results and achieving those goals we are aiming to achieve."
2016 focus and ambition
Cromwell will look to hit the ground running in 2016 but is not yet sure just what her racing programme will look like. A training camp with the team should finalise Cromwell's deliberation when speaking with Cyclingnews whether she will skip the bay crits for the first time in her career.
"I am undecided at the moment because I’ve done that lead in for the last 11 years. Initially I was like ‘yeah, I’ll do bay crits then nationals. Always do that.’ Then I thought maybe I’d do something so I’ll talk to my team back in Europe then I am back in Australia just before Christmas," she explained. "It could be good to have another two weeks at home to get in some really good training and motor pacing instead of a week of home then getting straight into racing before nationals."
A bronze and silver medalist at the nationals in the U23 ranks, Cromwell got a taste of the senior podium in 2012 as she finished second behind then teammate Amanda Spratt. Explaining that she is already ahead in her training compared to last season, Cromwell wants the gold medal next January.
"I’ve begun training for next year and I am pretty switched on," she said. "In the last few years I’ve done a lot of travel in November but I got that out of my system in October so for me I want to start the season early and gain that selection for Rio and solidify a spot early so you can than really focus on coming up at the right time for the Olympic Games. Nationals is obviously the starting spot so having strong result there to try and get a jersey because I’ve been trying my entire career and I really like those green and gold stripes. After that, I hope to have a strong classics campaign and then come down a bit in May and come back up again in August period where you want to be flying if you’re going to the Olympics."
2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner, the Classics are Cromwell's next big aim and the year when she most enjoys pinning on a race number.
"They are a big early season goal, not just for selection, but they are my favourite races of the season. I won Het Nieuwsblad a few seasons ago and I’d love to go back and win that, it is a point one race now. Flanders has always been a massive target too. Strade Bianche after having the initial race this year, I came in sick this year so I was hoping to have a much better race than I did this year but its such a cool race and those are the kind of races I want to win. They are hard, they are challenging and you have to be tactically smart as well with a good team around you. I go in really hard to with the Classics as a major target and from there build for the rest of the season."
Should everything go to plan and Cromwell earns her place on the Australian team, she will have an advantage of knowing just how tough the Olympics course is.
"It’s a really difficult course [laughs] when I first got here it kind of made everything a bit more real as it’s the first time where I’ve really been in the long team from the get go," she said of her recon with the national team. "When it came to London, I came in a bit later having a pretty bad 2011 season and then starting 2012 really well. This time I’ve been right among the mix of the riders they are looking at. Going there and seeing it gave me a lot of excitement and a huge amount of motivation to be in my best shape for that course."
The Rio course
That course, according to Cromwell is one that on paper appears to be far tougher than the last few Olympic parcours.
"It’s going to be a really hard race that’s for sure. It’s going to be a race of attrition with a lot more time on the bike than we are used to a lot of races because of the difficulties of the climbs but its also going to be a really beautiful climb. Its going to be one for a complete bike riders, you are going to have to be able to climb for sure, but also needing more than climbing skills. There are proper cobbles there, Belgian style cobbles, technical descents so when saw it I was like ‘I really, really like it’ but for me I know I have to get my climbing back up if I want to be there racing and fighting for a medal."
Always willing to pull on the green and gold for the national team, the World Championships are an annual aim for Cromwell. While she has performed well in the gulf state of Qatar with ninth place overall at this year's Ladies Tour of Qatar, Cromwell isn't giving the World Chsmpionships too much thought for now.
"For me it’s 100% focus on the Olympics and see what happens," she said. "Sure I know for Worlds I am capable of riding well in Qatar. I’ve proved I can ride well in the wind even being a smaller rider and obviously it’s a perfect course for Chloe [Hosking] and she’ll be our best chance. After Olympics you’ll want a break and I’ll reassess everything. In the back in of my mind, Worlds are still there but how eager I want to be to race in October I’ll assess that one when we get to it."
"It’s always a goal [Wolds] but I know I’d be going more as support rider. Even for me the team time trial would be something that I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door for a couple of years but haven’t quite been strong enough or the road race has been a bigger target so that might be another thing ill look at. Its not one where its ‘I have to make Worlds’, it’s all about Olympics next year for me."
It's clear that making the Olympics is Cromwell's main ambition of 2016, but when asked to describe what a successful season would look like, Cromwell added a few caveats.
"A successful season would obviously be going to the Olympics. If I see that I have gone and improved on this season with results and performances then that a successful season for me. Ok, you can go and say I want to win this, this and this but it might not work out due out circumstances but if I can see that I have improved and get a WorldTour podium, or victory then it will be a successful season. If I plateau, like this season for example verses last year, I was similar but I didn’t see the step forward I was after so that wasn’t so successful. If I can continue to see progress in myself and with that results should come with but ultimately it’s all about continuing to grow and learning from your mistakes."