A child basketball star, Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell
is now making big waves in the world of cycling, and she has big plans for 2014 – especially now that she’s secured a leading role with US team Specialized-lululemon
At first sight, there’s not a lot of Tiffany Cromwell. But watch the blonde 166cm and 50kg cyclist race a bike, or listen to her speak of ambition, and you quickly learn she can pack a punch – and sometimes take them too. The 25-year-old South Australian may be one of the more petite riders of the women’s professional peloton, but since turning pro in 2007 she has developed into one of the best one-day riders in the sport.
Cromwell, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Monaco during the racing season, is also one of the more flamboyant women cyclists with her trademark multicoloured nail polish and penchant for jewellery, skin care products, cuisine, shoes and shopping.But there’s far more to her. Her sights are set not only on the short and long-term goals of her cycling career, but also on her life after it; from one day having a family to pursuing a career in couture fashion.
But first things first, and at the dawn of her first season with the American Specialized-lululemon team – having left Australia’s Orica-AIS, with whom she rode for two years – Cromwell is determined to show the leadership status she’ll have for the big one-day races, such as the Tour of Flanders, has come entirely on merit.
She feels Specialized-lululemon’s attitude to racing will suit. ‘They are a very aggressive team,’ she told Cyclist at January’s Australian Road Championships at Buninyong, Victoria, after placing fifth in the elite time trial and fifth in the road race. ‘They don’t sit back. They want to make the race. They want to be in all the moves. They don’t want to sit around and wait for Marianne Vos to make her move.’
Cromwell’s results last year made her a good prospect as a leader for the one-day races with Specialized-lululemon, even though she often raced to help her former Orica-AIS team-mates. She was first in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, twice top three in stages of the Tour de l’Ardeche in France, and ninth in the World Championships in Florence.
This year, her major objective – apart from the World Championships – will be the Tour of Flanders in Belgium. ‘Aside from the Worlds, it’s probably the biggest one-day race for its prestige,’ Cromwell says. ‘It’s got everything. You have to be on the ball all the time. You have to be positioned. You have to ride the cobbles. You need technical skills. It has everything. It’s a really tough rider who wins those types of races.’
From the court to the road
How Cromwell’s name grows in the new season will become clear to all in the sport as the weeks and races pass, but less-known may be the person behind the name. In fact, cycling is fortunate she even took to the sport. While she was a runner at state level and did ballet because she was ‘always mum’s little doll whom she wanted to dress up,’ Cromwell seemed destined for basketball.
The sport was in the family. Her father Michael, a self-employed milk vendor, was a coach at her basketball club, the Sturt Sabers, and her mother Barbara also used to play basketball when she was young. Hence, when her two brothers, Mark, now 42 and Sam, now 27, played basketball, Cromwell did too – for eight years at the club and at St John’s Grammar School in Adelaide.
At age 13, a talent search program led her to take up cycling. But after trying her hand on the track, it took road cycling to keep her in the sport. ‘It took a while before I actually liked cycling,’ Cromwell says. ‘I was tiny when I started. I was 140cm and 33kg. There was nothing of me. It’s such a power-based [sport] and I was one of the worst in our group going, “I don’t like this.” I had a crash early on when one of the girls on the back fell and took me out!
It’s amazing as you become more established how much easier it is to get through the bunch
‘I still loved my basketball and balanced the two for a long time. Finally, I got on the road and started to like cycling.’ So what did cycling – especially the road – offer that basketball couldn’t? ‘In basketball, height wasn’t on my side and we never got to travel,’ Cromwell continues. ‘Suddenly I was starting travel. I was meeting people. My first race was a state championship. I medalled there. It’s always exciting to get medals and trophies when you are young.
‘In the talent search groups we got looked after well. I progressed smoothly and I never had any trouble. I liked training with the boys too and them looking out for me. I also love the social aspect of cycling too, the coffee shop…’
Cromwell rode both the track and road as a junior, impressing at the 2004 and 2005 Oceania Games with silver and bronze medal rides in the individual pursuit and points and scratch races on the track and road. But the road became her calling, and she progressed through the U23 ranks quickly from 2006
to 2010, riding for the Colavita-Sutter Home team from 2007 to 2009 and the Belgian Lotto team in 2010.
In 2011, she left Lotto, which had been ‘semi-paying’ her for Hi Tec, whose deal
did not include a salary but only travel expenses. It was a hard year. She struggled for form and motivation. But in 2012, she joined the Australian Orica-AIS team, for which she rode until the end of 2013. In all that time, she became a rider to reckon with.
How such a diminutive rider can be so strong is still impressive. But as Cromwell says, ‘[It’s something] I have worked on over the last years. I am forever being told to “Work on your power.” Power, power, power.
‘I’ve really changed as a cyclist. When I started, I could only climb. I couldn’t do anything else. I’ve become much more of an all-rounder. I’ve worked on weaknesses a lot, so I have focused on sprinting. The big thing now is that when making attacks, make them significant.’
Cromwell admits she may have been underestimated for her size early on. ‘When you start getting into Europe and do well in these races, it’s “Where did that come from,” and I’m still in the crosswinds. I’m good at positioning myself. Sometimes it isn’t so good for you being small, because you do get blown around a lot more. The bigger girls will pick on you. But I think there have been a number of times where people have thought, “Wow, Tiff’s still here, she is doing really well.”’
‘Even now it still happens. Like at Tour of Qatar last year. I still finished top 10. I was there chopping off with the girls when in the past I have always struggled with Qatar. It’s nice to be able to have that inner strength – having such a small build – and know that you can use it on the climbs, but still be good on the flats. As a female cyclist you have to be good at everything.’
She was getting up this Russian girl and vice versa and next thing she unclips and fly kicks her and causes a massive crash
You also have to handle some verbal and physical niggle, adds Cromwell. ‘There’s a lot, and I’m not going to lie, I am the same sometimes … more verbally, not so much physically,’ she says. ‘There was one point in the [national road title race] and an attack was going and I was like “Move!” just to get through, and they moved. It’s amazing as you become more established how much easier it is to get through the bunch.’
But Cromwell says she has still been hit (with a backhand) several times by riders – as recently, in fact, as in the Bay Cycling Classic series, by one Italian rider. In last year’s Route de France, Cromwell recalls, one Brazilian rider caused a mass pile-up when she kicked a Russian rider.
‘She was getting up this Russian girl and vice versa and next thing she unclips and fly kicks her and causes a massive crash,’ Cromwell says. ‘I’d never seen anything like that. I was second overall and came down.’
She’s not shy to stand up for herself, though, as she had to with Dutch star Kirsten Wild in her early days racing in Europe. ‘I had run-ins with her a number of years before I had become established,’ she says. ‘Once, we were fighting for the wheel and she was like [voice in deep tone], “I am bigger than you. You come down before me.” And I was like, “True … but I’m still going to fight you for the wheel.” She’s notorious for being a bully in the peloton. If she wants the wheel she’ll take it.’
‘It’s nice being confident enough in your skills that you can fight back and say, “Nah … I’m staying here.” If people know you can have the wheel taken from you easily, then they will take advantage of that.’
Going into fashion
Little wonder then that Cromwell is keen to return to the calm of her home in Monaco where several other Australian riders live, including former partner Richie Porte (Sky), with whom she is still friends.
‘In July and August it’s horrible [with the influx of tourists], but we’re racing then,’ she says. ‘For the rest of the time it’s awesome. You have the mountains,
the beaches, and good weather the majority of the time.’
Living in Monaco has also helped to fuel her interest in fashion, which has already led to her creating her own label of female cycling clothing, Tiffany Jane. Among her growing clientele is the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, named after the former South African Olympic Swimmer, who married Prince Albert II in 2011. It has asked her to design the jersey for the St. Tropez to Monaco charity ride. Her contact, says Cromwell, is someone from the organising Champagne & Oyster Cycling Club of Monaco who is ‘best mates with’ the Monacan prince.
Cromwell plans for a re-launch of her label and hopes to one day include ‘apres-cycling’ casual apparel in her range. ‘It’s always been a hobby,’ she says. ‘Now I want to get it right because when I did it first I did all the cool designs, but the kit wasn’t how I wanted it. I was just getting someone to make it for me, but now I can work in a close partnership with a manufacturer. I’m able to create really good cuts for women – not just a really good-looking kit, but also technically [strong]. The idea is to grow that and then have more casual wear [designed].’
Cromwell’s passion for clothing design goes back to her childhood. She attributes her pursuit of fashion to her father, Michael, who advised her to study the subject when she was at a loss as to what to do with her life. She did, and attained a TAFE Certificate III in Fashion Studies and a Certificate II in Image Management. ‘I really got into it,’ Cromwell says. ‘I have always been creative. I love photography. I love to shop like most girls do. When I cook I have an eye for detail. It went on from there.’
She would even one day like to pursue couture fashion and study it at one of the
major fashion schools of the world. ‘I’ve become kind of good enough with the basics to be able to develop my own line,’ she says. ‘Okay, it’s with cycling because it’s an area I know and I can try and use my name to promote it, but my passion is couture stuff…all these out-of-the-world designs. You need an amazing imagination to come up with these things. I would love after I finish
cycling to go back and complete the course, but maybe at one of the major fashion schools, like Parsons in New York or Saint Martins in London from where a lot of the top fashion designers have graduated.’
As to when that would be, Cromwell remains uncertain. Certainly she doesn’t
plan seeing it happen before the 2016 Rio Olympics. ‘It’s a little hard to say,’ she says. ‘Eventually I will want to settle down and have a family. The minute I stop enjoying [cycling] I will hang it up. But Rio is the target.’ And after that, who knows what’s next. Knowing Cromwell, it could be anything.