Interview | Tiffany Cromwell
Hi. I’m Tiffany Cromwell, a professional cyclist from Adelaide, Australia. Currently, I’m in the South of France close to Nice at my European training base. I love to be on the water, playing with paddle boards, wake boarding, jet skis, any water sport activity really. I also enjoy cooking and photography along with design and fashion.
How and why did you get into cycling?
Cycling kind of found me. I was introduced to the sport through a talent search program with the South Australian Sports Institute. We performed a general fitness test at school as part of PE class and then they sent it to the sports institute, I was then re-tested by them and from my physiology, they suggested that I had what it takes to be a cyclist. I was given an invitation to try the sport at the local velodrome, I did two sessions and then a Vo2 Max test in the lab. From there, I was given a scholarship into the cycling program and the rest is history.
I was trained on the velodrome and later moved onto the road with other kids who were also part of the program, they taught us the basic skills and other various things we needed to know through training, which prepared us for our first races. I’ve done many other sports, I started in Ballet, I then played basketball for eight years, I did a lot of athletics and running at school. Both track and field and cross country, a brief stint in triathlon too.
What have been the best and the most difficult parts of your sport?
The best thing about cycling is the freedom it gives you, the amazing people you get to meet through the sport and the places your bike takes you. Also, the satisfaction you get when everything comes together on race day and you end up standing on that top step of the podium.
Cycling is a very difficult sport, it takes a lot of dedication, hard work and requires the ability to suffer. The most difficult part of the sport would be having to move away from my friends and family in Australia to reside in Europe for 10 months of the year to compete at the highest level in the sport.
The biggest danger would be training on the open roads and the unpredictability of traffic and cars that we often have to face. Also, the speeds we go when racing and in the middle of the peloton can be quite dangerous, and you can have some pretty big crashes sometimes.
When I’m tired and everything is a mess, I often reach out to my support network, my close friends, family or team mates or coach. Sometimes you just need to take a step back or away for a day or two, sometimes longer and allow yourself to breathe to then get back on top of things and remember why you love the sport.
How do you eat and sleep?
I’m always eating. Eating and food is the fuel for our body to keep it running efficiently, so yes, it’s important to follow a specific diet. It depends on the day or time of the year, for example in races and heavy training loads, you have a higher carbohydrate intake, but if you are trying to get back into shape after the off season or in a lighter training phase, you may restrict yourself or have a lower carb intake but higher protein intake.
At the end of the day, my personal diet, I try to keep very balanced by eating a lot of whole ingredients, plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish and utilizing various super grains such as quinoa and millet for my carb intake, but they also have many other properties that are beneficial to you. I rarely take supplements, the only ones really is a protein supplement post-training in a form of a protein shake, and sometimes I need to take iron supplements when my iron levels are low.
I sleep a lot, for me sleep is one of the most important parts of the recovery process and I also don’t function well without enough sleep. On average, I like to have 9 to 10 hrs. a night sleep.
I’m generally pretty good at handling travel as I travel a lot. When crossing time zones, I try to put myself into the new time zone straight away by having a routine and things to do so you can’t allow your body to sleep when it is still stuck in the previous time zone. I try to keep it pretty stress free, I always have comfortable clothes to travel in and rely on my noise-cancelling earphones and good music to zone out and relax.
To help keep my body and mind in shape, for me personally is about surrounding myself with good and positive people and creating an environment where I’m happy and never feel trapped.
How do you finance your sport?
I’m lucky enough that I get to do this sport professionally and I am paid to do it through my team Canyon//SRAM Racing. It’s a German-based team that is supported by sponsors who fund the team and in turn pays our salaries. I also get some support from the Australian High Performance cycling program. I also have some personal sponsors, too, that help give me income so I can focus 100% on my sport, my training and the ability to be able to live. All of my costs associated with my racing, travelling, equipment and sometimes training are covered by the team. I spend most of my money on food to fuel myself, regular massages, and general living expenses that I need to fund whilst living abroad. I by no means make a huge amount from my sport, but I earn enough to be able to do my sport without requiring a normal job on the side.
How do you handle injuries and recovery?
I’ve been very lucky to have never suffered from any serious or recurring injuries throughout my career so far. Most of my time, the injuries will be the result of a crash, which include skin off, sometimes stitches and often bruising. I use the typical recover techniques such as icing and rest.
We also have physio’s who look after us when we have any problems. Regular massage and treatment is used to help with most injuries. The fastest way to recover after injury is rest, allowing your body to heal itself without trying to still train at your maximum. If you rush back too quickly or don’t listen to your body then after the injury will take longer to heal or become worse than it started out as. If my body allows it then yes I still train when injured but I don’t still train at max. It really depends on the extent of the injury.
How do you balance normal/family life with training?
It’s challenging for sure, you need to make a lot of sacrifices in my sport if you want to be your best. I moved away from my family to the other side of the world to be able to do this sport at a young age, I did often miss life events. For the really important ones I try to be there for, such as weddings, but many I have to say sorry because I’m away racing. I train/ between 16 and 24 hrs. a week and race 50-60 race days a year on average.
I don’t have my own personal family or children, but it is challenging to try and make a personal relationship work in this life when I’m barely in one spot longer than 10 days, it’s not saying that I don’t want a personal relationship, it’s just about finding one that understands. But it is my job, this is how I earn my money and I’m lucky that I have a lot of support behind me to take care of a lot of the logistical things and I can focus on being the best I can be in the races, which makes it more rewarding when you know the sacrifices you’ve made to get there. I’m also very lucky that my family back home in Australia supports me 100%.
How do you prepare for events/races?
I prepare through a well-planned training program as set out by the coach that I work with and in conjunction with my team too.
I do gym a lot in the season for cross training. In the off season and pre season, I often run, swim, hike, anything really to challenge my body in different ways that it is used to. All of my races and logistics are taken care of by my team.
How do you bring your gear with you?
I always need to bring my team uniform and cycling shoes to competition. That’s the most important thing, I usually travel with just a backpack and a trolley bag. For the trolley bag, it’s the 115L roller bag and the 42L roller bag. Then there’s just other home comforts that you throw in that you need whilst on the road. Things like a laptop, books, specific food or drinks that you can’t get at your destination. Although generally I’ll only bring the bare necessities.
When going to a race start, I prefer a backpack. Whereas for travel and to bring my things between the races at the hotel, etc., then I like to take a small trolley back where I can open it and see everything organized and accessed easily. I always travel with Oakley luggage. Dependent on the length of the trip and how much I require depends on which luggage I select as I have a full range of Oakley luggage. The main backpack I use is the Oakley Voyage Roll Top Backpack. I also have the Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack and the Voyage 2.0.
I generally have just enough room but sometimes on the borderline of not quite enough when I try to fit everything into a smaller bag as opposed to taking the bigger one. Pack accordingly but don’t pack the kitchen sink. Travelling light has a lot to be said for and also roll your clothes as opposed to folding. It’s amazing how much more room it gives you.
As for my gear, I bring it in my bags. Within Europe and going to a race or training camp, it’s rare that I need to travel with my bike as my team will take it by car. We have a home bike and then a race bike that’s always with the team. For long haul travel then usually I have to fly with a bike, my home bike. I use the ‘Douchebags’ branded bike bag.
How do you organize things in your bags?
My bags are always very organized. Everything has its place and various items are put in different bags, sometimes dependent if I need to leave one bag somewhere and I only have access to another bag. I feel like my bags are really well-designed. Designed for sports people and travels with good compartments and easy access to things that are important to access. I feel like the design has been well-thought about.
How do your bags and gear hold up?
In general, my bags are sturdy and tough. They have held up strongly throughout their life and multiple trips around the world, facing many tough baggage handlers.
What has been your best sport-purchase below $100, and what other favorite gear do you have?
TRX Bands. A very useful tool to be able to do core/strength work whilst on the road. And my other favorite would be my spikey massage ball. Such a simple but effective tool, when you have niggling pains or knots but don’t necessarily have someone who can work on it for you at the time.
What is your best advice for new and experienced cyclists out there?
Having ill-fitting equipment. Cycling isn’t the easiest of sports to get into and it’s quite expensive just to get started. But if you want to do it and you’re going to invest the money then make sure you have a bike fit before you buy the bike to make sure it’s the correct size. The same with the clothes, make sure you have clothes that fit and the shorts have a good chamois. Trust me, you’ll thank me later for it.
To get out the door, sign up to a local club, find some other people who want to get into the sport and start together. One of the best things about cycling is the social aspect, so embrace it.
For experienced cyclists, never be content, always keep challenging yourself. Whether it’s to turn left instead of right where you always do, signing up to a challenge or trying to improve in an area that you thought you were just useless at so you always avoided it.
What will the future bring?
Who knows. I hope a lot. I have a contract for three more years with my current team. So I will continue to be racing on the world circuit. I’m striving for selection at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, and have a big target towards Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Between those, I’m hoping for more success.
Outside of my sport, I have a few design projects and other interesting projects I’m working on that i would love to see come to life. I’m always open to trying new sports. I’d love to try Kite Surfing and also get behind a racing car to try motorsports.