“C’mon, Tiff,” says Beth Duryea. “You can do this. Podium. Podium. Podium.”
Those final three words came out in a steady staccato rhythm. The CANYON//SRAM co-owner and marketing manager Duryea was working as sport director at the Australian National Road Championships. Driving the car behind her team’s only Australian, Tiffany Cromwell, the versatile Duryea provided encouragement and instruction. With four kilometres left in the individual time trial, Cromwell was within reach of a spot on the podium.
Having scored a seat in the CANYON//SRAM car to follow Cromwell’s effort, I was wedged in the back next to the team’s mechanic, tools and extra wheels and enjoyed prime position watching her navigate up and down the undulating 29.3km course.
Mid-way through, when Cromwell had set the fastest intermediate split so far, I asked Duryea about her rider’s ambitions. “She wants to podium,” Duryea said. “She’s been working to improve her time trial.”
Cromwell is a versatile rider with the ability to perform well over varied terrain and in a diverse set of race scenarios, but she has never been a contender in time trials so I had been surprised to learn that she was starting. Even more so when Duryea gave voice to Cromwell’s ambitions. Up until that point, I had thought Cromwell was using the time trial as an opener of sorts for Sunday’s road race, which she was a pre-race favourite for.
Come Sunday, Cromwell would be surrounded – by a peloton, by crowds lining the course, by her team’s sponsors and by her family. Today, she was a lone figure on the road, cutting through the wind, barrelling toward the finish. Spectators on the course were few and far between.
They call the time trial a race of truth for a reason. There’s nowhere to hide and no one, really, to help. It’s all on Cromwell – her legs, her head, her heart.
“Except it’s not,” she told me later, insisting that the third place podium spot she achieved was because of the support she had while out on the road and all through the off-season.
She talked about the team launch in London at the Rapha Cycle Club in November. She told stories about the December team camp in Mallorca. “Every detail is attended to; every sponsor is invested. There’s nothing more we want or need, and when you have that level of support, you have no excuse not to perform your best.”
Cromwell pointed to the support extended by South Australia Institute of Sport. She ticked off the names of individuals from Rapha Australia, SRAM Australia and Canyon Australia who were on hand just for her – okay, not just for her, she added. But mostly for her. “It motivates me,” she said. “To hear people yelling my name. To have people to celebrate with or commiserate with after a race. It all matters.”
“Who else in the field had a bike ride leave Melbourne at the crack of dawn come out to support them?” Cromwell asked. She was talking about the road race road now. Rapha Australia organised a ride to Buninyong from Melbourne. 65 riders met at 4.45am for the 130km trek.
While she was less satisfied with Sunday’s road race, Cromwell was pragmatic about her performance: “I wish it had been raced differently, but I was only one person against a super-strong team of seven,” she said, referencing her former ORICA-AIS team that produced the 2016 national road champion in Amanda Spratt. “I don’t know what else I could have done. I rode smart. My goal was to be patient – and I was.”
I asked Cromwell about any stand-out moments from the day. “I got a message from one of our sponsors before the race telling me that regardless of the result, she was super proud of me no matter what,” she said. “For a sport that’s so outcome based, that was a really nice message to receive. To know that I have the support even if I don’t come out on top.”
Cromwell will come out on top at some point this season. There’s no doubt about it. And with the kind of support she and her teammates enjoy, the celebration atop the podium will be celebrated from near and far.