Monaco is at the end of Tiffany Cromwell’s residential street.
The professional cyclist will meet world champion Lizzie Armitstead in the rich principality before a training ride that can see the pair take in three countries on any given day.
Cromwell lives a comfortable life there, training and socialising with a group of Anglo expats from elite sports including but not limited to cycling, Formula 1 and MotoGP.
“It’s no different to a lot of places but then, okay, you see a handful of Ferraris and it’s like your average Ford,” the 27-year-old tells Zela.
“We come home from training and I might meet up with some of my friends, who don’t ride, for coffee. In summer we spend a lot of time on the beach, I have a beach across the road from me, and the rest is like normal, you go to the supermarket, some nights you might go for dinner.”
Normal in Monaco, however, is a relative term.
“If you don’t wear a pair of heels out to dinner you’re underdressed, no matter where you go,” Cromwell adds.
“It’s certainly got the glamour aspect but there’s also still a lot of down to earth people and a lot of sportspeople, which is nice because we can really relate to each other and are on the same wave length. I enjoy that, getting to know the different sportspeople and not just the cycling world.”
It’s a lifestyle the rouleur can afford despite ongoing wage and prize money discrepancies in women’s cycling.
“Of course you always want more, I do enjoy the finer things in life, but I think nowadays a greater amount of the top female pro cyclists can live comfortably,” Cromwell says.
“Certainly if I lived in Girona [Spain] easily I’d be putting savings away but I chose to live close to Monaco. I have a good community there, great training and I can go shopping and buy the nice dress, or heels from time to time. I don’t feel like I’m living beyond my means there.”
The South Australian says the salary gap between what female cyclists earn to their male counterparts is easily still an issue. She then offers the base wage of London Olympic silver medallist Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) to world champion Peter Sagan, who has an estimated €4 million contract with Tinkoff, as an example.
“She’s not even at 10 per cent of what he earns and they are your two world champions. It’s a huge gap,” Cromwell says.
Surprisingly though, the Canyon-SRAM identity is far from standing on a soapbox.
Cromwell isn’t actively campaigning for equal pay in the current climate where gains are being made in terms of professionalism, organisation and exposure through the UCI Women’s WorldTour introduced this year.
“We still have to be patient,” she says. “We still aren’t at the point to say we deserve what the men get because we’re years behind in the sport. If the Women’s WorldTour is successful, in terms of exposure, hopefully it will bring coverage and an audience tuning in. That’s ultimately what we need because without coverage we can’t demand big figures. If sponsors don’t get their exposure then they’re not going to want to pay the dollars.”
The women’s scene is now of greater appeal to watch, Cromwell says, because no single rider dominates as Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) has done previously. Vos returned to racing this month at Drentse Acht van Westerveld, following an extended absence through injury, though the level of her impact moving forward remains to be seen.
“I think there’s a lot more depth in women’s cycling now, you just have to look at how competitive the races are and how many people are winning races. All the champions are spread out in different teams and that has generated excitement because the racing is more exciting,” Cromwell says.
“When Vos comes back sure she’ll be strong but I don’t think she’ll be as dominant because the whole racing level has really stepped up.”
Cromwell has spoken about the Rio Olympic Games road race in nearly every interview since her non-selection for London 2012.
She starved an appetite for travel in the off-season to focus on marginal gains and improving confidence in the final cycle to Olympic competition in August.
The Giro stage winner hopes to not only earn selection but a protected role and vie for a mint even Monaco can’t afford. The spring classics, currently underway, are a critical part of that journey and performances over the next months will count towards a spot in the Australia squad.
Cromwell has transformed from a burgeoning to identifiable rider in the peloton since London. It’s a complement to her skill but one that has taken reckoning and a hit on her individual victory score.
“When you’re only sometimes making front selections and not on the radar of the ‘favourites’ they won’t look at you and that’s when you get your victory,” she says. “Whereas now I’m in a position where they don’t let me go anywhere, I don’t get that freedom so that’s where the confidence in your ability, the mental approach, is more important.
“That’s an area I struggle with sometimes so I’m trying to work on that to have more confidence in just going for a move instead of hesitating.”
Cromwell has been consulting with an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) psychologist on mentality and has also sought advice from Armitstead, who has a race confidence akin to Mark Cavendish.
“Lizzie is one of my best friends both on and off the bike and we talk about anything and everything,” Cromwell says. “We spend a lot of hours training together and she’s helped me a lot for sure.
“One of her biggest assets is she knows how to recover and when to recover. That’s usually an athlete’s biggest problem and one of my biggest problems too because I can’t sit still.
“She’ll say that there is no reason why I shouldn’t be there because we train as hard as each other and we’re as strong as each other. She is very confident once she gets on a bike and she knows exactly what she needs and wants to achieve. I’m slowly but surely working on it.”
Briton Armitstead may prove to be the biggest challenge Cromwell faces at Rio but it’s not of primary concern now.
The 2013 Het Nieuwsblad champion is immediately focused on her own performance and making an impression on selectors including national performance director Kevin Tabotta and women’s road coach Martin Barras.
Cromwell reconnoitred the mountainous course in Rio with the national team last year and believes if everything comes together she can figure on it.
“I have a very good relationship with Kevin Tabotta, he was in Rio when we went over, and same with Marv; I’m on good terms with him at the moment. We’ve had a bit of a rollercoaster relationship over the years but he knows what I’m capable of, I know what he expects from me and it’s more just showing it out on the road,” she says.
“I know just how difficult the course is and I know for me how difficult it will be but I’m capable of performing on a course like that if I put myself in the right shape.”
It’s a generalisation but female cyclists publicly speak more actively about their post-cycling careers.
Cromwell describes herself as a “creative” and has no shortage of future options, which includes a desire to turn a passion for raw foods into a café venture.
She is even now hard to categorise. Elite cyclist, businesswoman, designer, cook and adventurer are all part of the repertoire so it’s understandable that finding time to balance private life and professional can be tricky.
“I’m at the point where unless you get that connection straight way I’m not interested because I move from place to place all the time,” she says. “But it almost could be better because then you’re not getting distracted trying to chase boys all the time! That being said, if the right one comes along then it can often be a ‘good’ distraction and with the effort.”
Cromwell won’t be distracted as the countdown to Rio, now less than 160 days, rolls closer.
Everything from her mental approach to training, performance and diet is being stringently considered.
“I have a huge sweet tooth and dessert is one of my favourite things so the way I try to counteract that is I make these raw desserts,” she says.
“I’m not one to weigh my food – I’d go crazy. I believe in moderation and it’s unhealthy if you starve yourself. Certainly I go through periods where I back off desserts or try to have reduced portions but I’m not like that all the time.
“When I’m getting focused certainly for Rio I’ll have to be really strict given how hard the course is. I’ll have to be really lean and super fit for that course,” she continues.
“Previously through the season I’ve lost focus and my discipline has been not as strong and those are the mistakes I will look at now and say, ‘OK, I can’t be doing that or that in this key period.’ There is a time to have fun and times to be serious and I’m looking at those one and two percenters.”
Cromwell and her coach have mapped out a plan for Rio, albeit one that still has room for movement following the spring classics.
Her eponymous kit design line is more a “hobby” than profitable business, which provides a mental reprieve she will surely welcome as she prepares for her biggest fight yet.
Cromwell has the right mixture, it’s just a matter of making sure it sets.