In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
The Australian version of spring is beautiful days with blue skies, the sun shines and the birds chirp away. Cool mornings and evenings but warm days and colour starts to return on the trees and throughout the flowerbeds.
In Europe it seems to be a different story altogether, and in particular this year, where we have been suffering from a very harsh spring.
I had to laugh when I was talking with my European teammate; we were riding in Northern Holland. It was cold and wintery and she said to me, ‘this is spring to me’!
These conditions she was referring to are those that make the typical ‘spring’ classics so well known, for the tough courses and even tougher weather conditions. Whereas I was thinking to myself, ‘this is still winter in my books’.
I must admit it has been a nice new experience seeing so much snow as until 2007 I had never seen real snow. Waking up and opening the curtains to a field of white, it is a pretty beautiful sight to see.
However, the novelty wore off pretty quickly when it came to actually training in it – or worse, having to race in the cold, arctic conditions.
Every race I have raced since arriving in Europe this year has been under a maximum of 10 degrees Celsius with many starting in minus degrees and struggling to climb over 0 degrees.
I have never raced so many days in full thermal clothing. It has been a new challenge working out what to wear for the races, too little, too much, if it’s raining then it adds another element.
I guess this is what the Northern Hemisphere riders have to deal with every winter while us from the Southern Hemisphere are working out how to stay cool during the hot summers we spend the off season training in.
Aside from the crazy weather that has been happening right around the world, the 2013 racing season has been in full swing. I am back racing with the Orica-AIS women’s squad for a second season and we have started very strongly with many podiums and wins already.
For me personally it has been a very strong start, surprising even myself many times. I had a really productive off-season, training hard and preparing myself for the season ahead, working on my weaknesses, and it has certainly paid off.
I opened the season with a solo win in the Australian Bay Criterium series to kick start the year. At the Australian national championships, always way too early to be in good form, but if you want to challenge for the national stripes you need to be going well, we rode very strongly as a team to keep the national jersey with Orica-AIS.
It was a hard and aggressive race but my teammate Gracie Elvin had an amazing race and finished off the job for us to take gold.
Following the national championships we had a two week training camp with the entire squad to put in strong foundations for the season ahead and get to know each other and bond before the serious business really began.
From Australia we headed to the Middle East for the fourth edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. This is a flat race through the desert made famous by the strong winds that can be (and usually are) the defining factor of the race.
I end up at this race every year but when you look at the parcours and the riders it tends to suit, you wouldn’t commonly put me in that category. I love the race though as it is a good early season tour to have in the legs, but being a smaller rider I have always dreaded the strong cross winds.
This year however, I really enjoyed the race as I was able to help the team split it to pieces, getting into the right position at the right time as we hit cross wind sections and helped form the echelons.
As a team although we didn’t manage any wins throughout the tour, though we rode really strongly as a team, had a number of riders high on general classification and as a consolation we won the overall team classification.
Finally it was time to head to Europe where the season really kicked off. Most of our early season racing is in Belgium and Holland with lots of technical racing, cobbles and typical ‘spring classics’ style of races.
I am always very motivated for the early season races, I love the Belgium cobbled classics the most, but all the early season races are hard but fun one-day races.
It all kicked off at Het Nieuwsblad, known as a ‘mini Flanders’ as we race over many of the famous climbs and cobble sectors throughout the Vlaanderen region. We also share the same finish line as the pro men as our race takes place on the same day.
When I sat down and planned my season, Het Nieuwsblad was an early season goal to target. It was really tough racing conditions, freezing temperatures, strong and cold winds to add to the difficult parcours.
My motivation was high though and as a team we rode so strongly and it was a race where any one of us could of won. Being strong all day, we came off the final cobbled sector still with four riders in the front group of 15 with 20km’s to go. We utilised our numbers and began to attack until a break went clear that we were happy with.
It took a long time but after many attempts finally I put in one last attack with 5km’s to go and only one girl came with me. I was in the race winning position with a 50/50 chance of winning. I didn’t want to let the team down so I had to make sure I stayed switched on and work out how I was going to win.
I was able to come from behind in the sprint to take the win comfortably. It was an awesome feeling to come over the finish line first and take the win for the team.
I have always loved this race and to be able to win it, it gave me so much more confidence and was an amazing way to start my European racing campaign.
Following Het Nieuwsblad we had two smaller races in Belgium.These races were great because they were hard races but good opportunities to fine tune our team work and improve on any mistakes ahead of the bigger races.
Every race we continue to grow as a team and always have a number of cards to play, and in these events our resident Swedish rider Emma Johansson put us on the podium, taking third in both of the races.
After a little over a week in Belgium it was time to head North to Holland to continue this racing block.
Three one-day races followed over a period of four days in the Drenthe region of Holland, very flat and hectic racing with small roads, large pelotons and lots of road furniture along with some Dutch cobbles.
Dutch cobbles are different to Belgium cobbles; they tend to be rounder and more randomly scattered to form a road whereas the Belgium cobbles are a little more organised and not as harsh.
The opening race, Drentse 8, was held two days before the first World Cup of the season so many teams used it as a warm up to the World Cup race. It was a stressful race with many crashes but came down to a bunch sprint.
The race was probably our strongest as a team, coming together and getting organised at the right moments. Again Emma delivered a podium performance for the team with another 3rd place to put us in good confidence ahead of the weekend.
In the lead up to the Ronde van Drenthe the weather forecasts were looking grim, even risks of snow showers for race day. Luckily there was no snow for the race but the conditions were horrible, very wet, windy and cold. Mentally it was always going to be a battle but you just had to go out there and race your bike and not think about it.
The defining points of this World Cup event are the cobble sectors, three long sectors back-to-back and then, later in the race, two ascents of the Vamberg, a short but steep man-made climb over an old rubbish dump.
It was a battleground out there during the race, as always with Dutch racing, stressful and you needed to have your wits about you. It never stopped raining the entire race and I got to a point where my feet were so cold I had lost all sensations of the pedaling motion making it very difficult when it came to attacking.
The race split up and came back together many times but we always had numbers in the front of the race giving us cards to play when it came to crunch time. The defining point of the race ended up coming over the last ascent of the Vamberg with 10km to go, as Marianne Vos put in one of her dominant attacks to split the field to pieces.
At first we thought she was going to be able to ride away solo but Ellen van Dijk, who has super strong form currently, managed to bridge across and go with Vos to the finish.
My teammate Emma was caught in No Mans Land as she tried to bridge across to the leaders but only managed to get as close as 15 seconds and held that gap most the way to the finish.
I found myself in the next group back of seven and then the main peloton was behind us. As you can tell the Vamberg did its job of splitting the race along with the crosswinds to the finish. Vos won the race comfortably in a sprint against van Dijk and Emma came over the line solo in 3rd.
In my group I was able to sit on the back as they chased, having a team mate up the road I didn’t want to help bring sprinters to the finish as five of the six girls I was with are noted bunch sprinters.
When it came to the sprint I knew I didn’t have much chance but I still had a go but could not find the inner sprinter in me to be able to take them on and had to settle for 9th. I personally was satisfied with my personal result and the race but I can tell you also I had never been so cold and so happy to see the finish line!
The following day the third of the races was to take place, Novillion Eurocup. I was never down to race this race, as I was to head home to Monaco that day. Sunday morning we woke up and opened the curtains to a field of white, it had snowed heavily overnight forcing the race to be cancelled. Looks like everyone also had the day off from racing.
The season has only really just begun but so many races have already taken place. It has been exciting for me being at the pointy end of the racing much more often and working out how to put myself in the winning position instead of just trying to make the final selection.
I’m looking forward to a big 2013 and hopefully I can report on more big and exciting results as the season progresses.
Until next time, keep it rubber side down!
Tiffany Cromwell is a professional cyclist with the Orica-AIS presented by GreenEDGE cycling team. 26 years old, Tiffany hails from Stirling, Australia, but now resides in Europe. Tiffany describes herself as an all-rounder and a team player and was a finalist in the Australian Female Road Cyclist of the Year competition in 2012. However, she may go one better this year after a brilliant and memorable win at the recent Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where in terrible conditions she outsprinted her breakaway companion.
Follow Tiffany’s year here on The Roar, read about her exploits and enjoy her ups and down as she competes against the best riders in the world.