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Tiffany Cromwell interview part 1: Previewing the Omloop het Nieuwsbald

The women's European road season starts on Saturday with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad's cobbles, climbs and attacking, and who better to tell us what the race is like than last year's winner, Tiffany Cromwell? We caught up with the young Australian and talked about the race, her first race with Specialized-lululemon, keeping up with Marianne Vos and much more. It was so good, we've divided into two, so once you've read this, click onto Part 2 for the rest.

PdC: Welcome to the Café!  So, as last year's winner, can you tell us about the Omloop?

Tiffany: The Omloop's probably one of my favourite races, and not just because I've won it!

The first 50km, not a lot happens - you get the chance to ride into it, and there's a bit of fighting for position, but it doesn't start until you hit the Côte de Trieu and Paterberg section - there's one climb just before that, which is the first warm-up, but I call that back-to-back the most important section, because that's generally where the move seems to happen, that's where Emma Johansson has attacked before and won from that far out, it's where the selections have gone in the last couple of years.  Last year we had the winter northerly winds, which stopped it breaking up so much, and it kept coming back together, but normally it's between those two sections, because you go over the climb and it's hard, straight into the Paterberg, and that's enough to stretch it out and it forces groups and creates a selection there.

I like it because then you have the cobbled climbs, and the various other climbs, and then you get into the three long cobbled sectors, which really shapes the race, before the last 20k run-in to the finish.  It can play out a number of different ways, certainly the first selection comes around that 50km mark, but we've seen a number of times the race happens in the last cobbled sectors.  Loes [Gunnewijk] won two years ago when she went with Ellen van Dijk on the last of the long, straight cobbled sectors.  Then last year we still had four GreenEdge riders in the group of about 20, and we just had to attack, because we didn't have an out-and-out sprinter.  We had so many numbers, we just had to use them, so it was attack after attack after attack.  Finally I tried one last attack with about 5k to go, and that was the one that was able to go free, with Megan Guarnier, and I had to out-sprint her at the finish.  It's one of those races where so much can happen, and it's a good warm-up to the Classics, and shows you what lie ahead - who's got form, who can ride the cobbles, who's doing what.

PdC: So, who will you be watching out for, and who should we watch?

Tiffany: Obviously you've got ORICA GreenEdge, because they'll still be fit from the Australian summer, and Emma will want to come out on top, but there's a few others, Gracie [Elvin] has got form, and she's proved herself well in the Classics.  But any of their team can be good…

Certainly us, Specialized-lululemon!   I haven't seen the startlist, but I'd put people like Anna van der Breggen, and Kirsten Wild is very strong, and with the form that she had in Qatar, I wouldn't be surprised if she could get herself over some of those climbs.  It's one of those races where sprinters can do well - hopefully it'll be too hard for them, but you never know these days with the sprinters and what they can pull off!  Lauren Kitchen's been going well, she'll be motivated with the new team.

The ones who are going to be fittest are the Australian riders who have raced and then been over here for a while and been settled.  My dark horse would be Lizzie [Armitstead] - she's said she's been a bit sick, but I think she'll be good,  I think she'll be in for a good year this year - and Ellen [van Dijk] is another one.

PdC: It feels like there's been a lot of changes in the peloton, like the talent's spread out a bit more.

Tfffany: Yeah, that's exciting

PdC: it's great to have the season starting - and I'm so interested in this year's team, especially after watching you in the Tour of Qatar, where it wasn't the ideal course for the team, especially on that last stage, where you and Trixi Worrack were attacking together, with Chantal Blaak.

Tiffany: It was really cool actually, because we went to Qatar with not a lot of pressure, because we had quite a new team there, three of us were new riders on the squad.  Obviously we'd just done massive travel from America and around, so it was more just about us getting to know each other as a team, our strengths and weaknesses, how we could work together as a team. It's always going to be different, everyone has their own style of riding, so it's just getting used to racing with each other and it was nice, we had a few times there when we were sort of getting it together, but we couldn't quite nail it.

Then, on the last stage we came together and just showed we could back each other, everyone putting in their attacks, us and Élise [Delzenne] and Lisa [Brennauer], we all really worked off each other and I think that's exciting, going into the Classics.  One thing we noted on the team camp is we have a very strong Classics line-up, it's not going to be about one rider, we have a number of different cards we can play, and it'll be exciting seeing how we play those cards, and how we work together and work off each other to hopefully get plenty of victories, but also just to see how well we race. 

PdC: It was funny, because before Qatar I was thinking about how you race sprints, as a rider who's not known as a sprinter -  especially after seeing you being talked about in the Australian summer races, where the twitter and the reports were talking about how the sprint trains were forming and then you just attacked and caused chaos - it was good seeing you do that in Qatar, too!

It's been nice, because I've done quite a bit of work on my power in particular, so I can really try to make meaningful attacks, and that's obviously helped my sprinting abilities!  Before I was never a noted sprinter, but I can be crafty, that's one of my tricks, I'm crafty in the bunch and I can steal wheels if I need to, even in the last stage of Qatar, I was fighting Giorgia [Bronzini] for Kirsten's wheel, and I saw Trixi just ahead, so I let her take that train and it all worked out.  it's quite fun, I enjoy that side of things.  I've dabbled in the track too in the [Australian] summer, and that also helped my sprinting.  I don't really have trouble in the peloton with the bunches, but it is fun now I can be say "hey, this is normally my position in the train, but now I don't belong in this train, I can sprint now!".  That's what happened in the last stage of the Bay Crits!

PdC: I really like that kind of riding, and I was thinking about the riders I like with those skills - you, and Chantal Blaak and Trixi Worrack, and I realised wow, you're all on the same team!

Tiffany: That's the thing with us - we don't have a pure sprinter in our squad.  Élise has a got a very good kick on her, but we're all very crafty, we've all got a punch, we've not got an out-and-out sprinter, but we can all be clever in our own ways in the finish, and we do have so many cards we can play, and nobody quite knows what trick we'll play.

PdC: It's going to be so much fun!  A couple of years ago, I would never have put you as the kind of rider who would come in the Tour of Qatar GC top 10…

Tiffany: And now I've done that two years in a row!  Getting the win, that's the trick!  Qatar's all about fighting, because you know it'll get easier once the selection gets made, so it's just fighting, keeping it in that gutter.  It's just been a couple of years of getting stronger and maturing, I guess you can say.  But it is fun, it's nice, you become more of a complete rider, and it gives you more tricks you can play.

PdC: What kind of rider do you see yourself at the moment?  Classics, climber, GC-type, or just more of an opportunist?

Tiffany: I used to say opportunist, but now I'd say more of a Classics or one-day racer.  I'm not yet a GC rider, I still certainly have my off-days, and I'd need to work on my time trialling too, to become a GC rider.  But I love the one-day races, that's my strength at the moment, and I think I'm capable of doing quite well in them.  I call myself an all-rounder, I'm good at a number of things; I've proved myself on the flats if I need to, I can ride in the wind if I need to, I can do a bit of a sprint if I need to, too.  Lots of those little things, which in women's cycling is important, because you can't be just a pure climber, because we don't have pure climbing races, so you need to be one of those all-rounders, and that's where I see myself.  Tactically, technically, I can dabble in everything, now it's just trying to bring it all together and be really good at everything!

PdC: Easy!  I really loved Stage 4 of the Giro last year, where it was you and Marianne Vos out together for so long, and you were the only person who could keep up with Vos - and what I liked most was you could have played it safe in that last descent and ridden for second, and you didn't.

Tiffany: I dropped myself!

PdC: Death or glory! That makes racing for fun to watch!

Tiffany: That certainly boosted my confidence a lot, it proved that I could play with Vos if I needed to.  At the start of the stage I was so switched on, but towards the end I was getting a bit more tired, and she was really pushing on the descent, because we knew the climbers were coming.  And I just made that one mistake in the last descent that caused me to lose my front wheel - but you have to play it, you have to put all in - you can't be scared on the descents if you want to go with Vos!  You have to just push it to your limits.  I could have pulled off, but I just had that one lapse in concentration and it's all over - but you know you'd put it all out there!

Having descending ability is very, very handy, in women's cycling in particular, there's such a difference in abilities, and you can get away, you can win bike races just by being a good descender, because if you get rid of some of the best climbers that can't descend, there's an advantage already, you can use your energy in a different way up the road.  There was a stage in Spain where there were four of us up the road, me, Emma, Marianne and Elisa [Longo Borghini] because we'd dropped everyone on the descent. 

PdC: I guess especially when you have women who come in late to bike racing, some of the climbers, they've probably got a little bit more fear about that.

Tiffany: Exactly.  I certainly wasn't the best descender all my life, it's taken lot of training, and I'm lucky to live in the mountains and have plenty of technical climbs to go on on, and plenty of boys to chase down hills!  But I enjoy it, I love the rush, and the speed, and the adrenaline.  Not everyone does, some people get scared, and they think too much - and you have one bad crash on the descent, and suddenly that completely stuffs everything up as well.  I've had that too, I've crashed descending and then been terrible at it.  It's a big mental game, just as much as it is skill - you need to have it together mentally, or you start thinking there's a bit of gravel there, I might slip, a bit of oil there, there's everything else.  I remember I got told once that you've just got to switch off and not think when you're descending, and it's true, if you can switch off, get your technique right and your momentum right, it all comes together.

PdC: It must have been very interesting being out there with Vos - we all thought she was pushing it because she didn't want to come to the last climb with you.

Tiffany: Actually, that day she wasn't her usual self, she seemed like she was struggling a little bit on the climb, and I thought maybe I can beat her.  We sort of had made an unspoken agreement that I was more or less taking the climbs and she was taking the descents, which was perfect, because we could still push on the descents, and I could have a good line to follow instead of me having the pressure to create the line.  But then it meant I didn't get any recovery on the descents either, because we were continually pushing.  We knew the gap was coming down to the climbers behind, so we couldn't afford to sit up - but I realised that when I got caught by the climbers, they didn't have a significant chase from behind to bring them back when Vos was still away, so they weren't really working that well together…  but that's bike racing!

PdC: And we saw your descending in Worlds too - how many laps was it you came back on that big, long descent?

Tiffany: it was only twice - the second-to-last lap when I got dropped and I came back, and then on the last lap I just caught back to Antoshina, but the gap was too big…  But I liked that descent!  Obviously they had resurfaced the whole course, but it's the kind of descent where if you knew it, it was so fast, and you don't have to use your brakes except for the last two corners, so you could just take it so fast!

PdC: I hope they have some more descending stages in the Giro this year

Tiffany: That would be nice.  But then we'll be working for Evie [Stevens] at the Giro and want her to win!


Click through to part 2 of the interview, where Tiffany talks about training camps, her ambitions for the future and what she's up to off the bike.

Follow her through the season on her website, twitter, instagram and her facebook fan-page - and follow Specialized-lululemon on their website and twitter

Photo used with kind permission of Tiffany Cromwell