HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Racing gravel has helped Tiffany Cromwell find her love of road racing again.
The Australian who rides for Canyon-SRAM branched out into gravel racing gravel late last year with rides at SBT GRVL, the Belgian Waffle Ride in North Carolina, Big Sugar, and several others.
Swapping the asphalt for dirt was a good break for Cromwell and gave her an opportunity to get away from the pressure of the road. Though she wants to keep riding gravel this year and beyond, she isn’t leaving the road behind.
“I definitely still want to balance it with the road aspect. I still have a lot of big ambitions on the road,” Cromwell told VeloNews. “Last year, having a much stronger year, it brought my enthusiasm back. I got back some of the parts that maybe I had lost in those years, but at the same time I like the idea of not having such a full-on program and being able to have those small breaks because then you are fresher for the road, I think.”
Cromwell has been racing road bikes for most of her life and she has been a pro for 12 years after signing for the Lotto Ladies Team back in 2010. Adding some gravel to her calendar last year gave her a chance to break up what can be a very demanding road race calendar.
“I’d been working there for a long time and I’ve had up and down years and I think [Ronny Lauke] knew I needed something else,” she said. “From the partners’ point of view, gravel is a very interesting area so he pitched the idea and said maybe it could for me personally for my performance and also for the team and our partners. I embraced it and I always like doing different things.”
As well as giving her a mental break from the relentlessness of that, and providing some variety in her season, Cromwell believes that the discipline will help benefit her road racing.
“There are certain things like the sheer amount of time on the pedals and hours on the bike. As long as you recover properly then it’s going to benefit my power on the road,” Cromwell said. “Women’s cycling is growing pretty crazy on the roadside and I want to be a part of that. I don’t want to go completely full gravel. It’s a good position to have both sides of it.”
Cromwell had planned to travel to the U.S. earlier this month, following a stint on the road at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. However, with lots of key races coming up on the road over the sprint, it was decided that the quick visit across the Atlantic was not a good idea.
In the end, Cromwell did not ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad — her team wanted to start Chloé Dygert — and she made her season debut at Strade Bianche. She’s since ridden Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem and will race at the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race before finally getting on the gravel in May.
It will be the first of two gravel stints for Cromwell, who will go back to the U.S at the end of the summer. As well as the variety in her racing, Cromwell is enjoying the camaraderie of the discipline.
“I’ll do BWR San Diago, that’s 30th April, and then I’ll do Grinduro California. The month of May I will spend on the gravel and then I’ll come back to the road. I’ll do a few European races and then I’ll do another stint [on gravel] in August,” she said.
“I’m enjoying it, still the gravel season is quite new to me and last year was the first proper year dabbling in it but I only did a handful of races but having done this sport for so long I’m enjoying having one or two months focusing solely on road and then having that breather from the stress of the WorldTour and spending some time doing some gravel. It is a different approach, and it is much more relaxed. The races are super hard because they’re so long and physically pretty demanding, but it’s a different mindset. It’s much calmer away from the race and it’s a big community. I’m enjoying it.”
On the road this year, Cromwell has modest ambitions. While she’d like to race for herself when she can, she wants to be a good team player, too.
“I hope to be a strong asset for the team. If I have opportunities for myself, I’ll take them, but I want to continue the growth I had last year and see what opportunities I can take.”