Tiffany Cromwell has a big future in women's road cycling, and off the back of a podium finish at the recent UCI World Cup race in Plouay and fuelled by her non-selection for the London 2012 Olympic Games, she is motivated to finish her season on a high.
With the UCI Road World Championships just weeks away, the 24 year old has a renewed confidence in her abilities.
The team for the worlds is likely to include Olympians Shara Gillow and Amanda Spratt and Cromwell believes they will be both strong and competitive. Based on her recent form, we could see something special in the road race.
"A top 10 is very realistic," Cromwell said. "Top five would be amazing and podium incredible."
A big result in Valkenburg would be a fitting end to a breakthrough year that has seen Cromwell finish inside the top 10 in the world cup rankings. A result that is all the more impressive when considering 2011 was marked by disappointment and a lack of direction. Luckily at seasons end, Orica-AIS threw her a lifeline.
Cromwell credits the team with helping her rise to success in 2012 and motivating her to "give it everything". She says a key has been hiring top established European riders to be mentors, and if her results this season are anything to go by, Orica-AIS is exactly what she needed.
Known for her tenacious racing style, Cromwell says she has never been a quitter. Always wanting to get the best out of herself, she has animated road races domestically and internationally for years, yet big results were sporadic. It has taken a physical maturity and the right team environment for her talent to flourish.
After a second place in the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships in January, Cromwell headed to Europe and had a string of top 10 results in the spring classics. July saw a big breakthrough, and the young Australian won a stage of the Giro Donne in a solo breakaway that lasted more than 100km.
Disappointment followed, though, when Cromwell missed out on selection for the London 2012 Olympic Games, but she says that has only added fuel to the fire.
Aside from a new team, Cromwell may have a secret weapon behind her current trajectory. Living and training in Monaco with partner Richie Porte (Sky), she has found a renewed focus but also admits her training environment is both unique and challenging.
"I have spent a lot of time training with Richie and (team-mate) Chris Froome," said Cromwell. "When they’re riding tempo up a climb, I would be at threshold or above. I was continually pushing myself to hold on to their wheels. It makes race time that little bit easier."
Aside from the training benefits, Porte's vocal support has also given Cromwell a confidence boost as she tackled the racing season.
"Before I went to the Giro he (Porte) kept telling me, 'You can win a stage there', and I never truly believed it myself, but he was the one that knew I could do it.
"It comes down to is happiness, when everything is in the right place and you have found the right balance it is amazing what you can achieve," said Cromwell of her new found confidence and enthusiasm for cycling.
With a positive attitude and a growing maturity on the bike, her challenge at the world championships will be to ride confidently and with tactical composure. Marianne Vos will be the big favourite on home soil, but Cromwell warns against calling the Australia team underdogs.
"We are opportunistic riders who know how to get a result," she said.
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