The Cycling Fashionista – Tiffany Cromwell
By Aaron S. Lee
Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t have it all” forgot to tell Australian pro cyclist and budding fashionista Tiffany Cromwell. The 26-year-old from the Adelaide Hills is living proof that life is exactly what you make it, and for Cromwell, she’s making hers complete with both style and substance.
Sportette recently caught up with Cromwell, fresh off a fourth-place photo finish in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games in August, while she was in Sweden preparing for the Ladies Tour of Norway to talk a bit about cycling, but also about her goals and interests outside the sport.
“I am someone that can’t really sit still,” said Cromwell with a hint of European flair in her accent after years of racing overseas and living in Monaco.
“I am not one of those book people that sits down and gets excited looking at numbers. I’m a creative and need to be constantly nurturing that part of my personality.
“To be honest, I am much more than just a bike rider, after all we can’t be cyclists or athletes all our lives. Eventually it does stop and I’ve never been scared of the question: ‘What’s next?’”
“What’s next” for Cromwell is a plethora of opportunities, the first of which presents itself in the form of the 127.4-kilometre UCI Road World Championships on September 27.
“The Road Worlds are definitely a big goal for me,” said Cromwell, who finished ninth at the race in Tuscany last year.
“I was down in Ponferrada in June and got to ride the course. The road course really suits my style of racing and providing I am at my absolute peak, I think it will be a better race for me than last year. Plus, I will be surrounded by a stronger Australian team on the start line.”
Cromwell, who now rides for Specialized-Lululemon, has put together an impressive palmarès already, including a second-place finish at the Australian national road race championships (2012), as well as the Sparkassen Giro Bochum (2010), the GP de Plouay-Bretagne (2012) and the GP Comune di Cornaredo earlier this year.
But Cromwell is not always the bridesmaid.
The former Orica-AIS rider (2012-13) has won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2013), as well as stages in the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminille (2012), La Route de France and the Tour Féminin en Limousin (2009).
“I’ve enjoyed the change so far,” said Cromwell on her move to Specialized-Lululemon this year.
“It’s a good group of girls and quite different from Orica-AIS in terms we are a much more international team with completely different riding styles.”
Cromwell told Sportette that while she thoroughly enjoyed racing with the Orica-AIS squad, it was the chance to spread her wings that lured her to her new squad, as she felt like it was time for a change and find more about herself as a rider and see what kind of opportunities she can create by being with a team where more individual openings not only existed, but also encouraged.
“With Orica we had the one outright leader with Emma Johansson (SWE), and then a lot of us below Emma spent a lot of time working for her, whereas with Specialized everyone gets equal opportunities to have a go and race for a victory.
“It’s just a different way of riding, and one that I enjoy as it suits my characteristics and the style I like to race.”
A bit of perspective…
When Cromwell narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in the women’s road race in Glasgow, thoughts of woulda, shoulda, coulda bounced around in her head for days. The gap was negligible – a dead heat. But Ashleigh Pasio (RSA) took the final podium spot by the narrowest of margins. Perhaps ‘woulda’ ‘coulda’ been negated by Cromwell simply throwing her bike toward the line. While it was not the outcome Cromwell anticipated, she told Sportette it is not a result that will haunt her either.
“It’s gone through my mind a few times,” said Cromwell of the finish.
“You know, what’s done is done. You can go over it a hundred times and say ‘I could have done this differently’ or ‘should have done that differently’ but ultimately it comes down to bike racing, and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.”
Cromwell’s emotional detachment and realistic perspective is something that comes naturally for the young cyclist after being honed by years of sport, which like Glasgow can often end in disappointment.
“I’ve been in sport for a long time, and cycling’s a very mentally tough sport, but I am quite a strong person I think,” she said.
“As Australians, if we are going to do [road cycling] properly we have to move overseas far away from friends and family so you have to become tough from the start.
“When you start looking at the negative side you get upset, depressed, and don’t want to ride your bike. We do this sport because we enjoy it, not because we are making millions of dollars, so that’s why you have to have that outlook.
“You have to put everything into perspective. Losing is not the end of the world. It gives you more motivation because there is always more out there to achieve.”
Two sides to Tiff…
Cycling was not always the sport of choice for Cromwell, who spent seven years on the basketball court before being introduced to the velodrome in 2002.
“I never went further than domestic level in basketball, but enjoyed it, ballet, school aerobics, running, the works,” she said.
“One day a talent search came to my school and told me that based on my fitness tests I had the potential for cycling and so they started me on the velodrome before moving on to the road.”
Cromwell said the switch to cycling was not an instant success. In fact, it took a while for the sport to really click with the 145-centimetre, 13-year-old at the time.
“I was tiny when I started on the velodrome and didn’t really enjoy it too much, so I transitioned to the road,” said Cromwell, who now stands at 165cm. “It was for the best.”
Growing up with a keen interest and a natural ability for sport, Cromwell admitted she was a bit of a tomboy, especially with two older brothers. However, the exemplary Australian girl-next-door said she always had an interest in playing dress-up.
“There is still an element of me that’s a bit of a tomboy,” said Cromwell.
“But I love slipping on a dress, throwing on heels, putting on makeup and doing my hair. There are very many aspects of me, and being a tomboy and a girly-girl are just two of them.”
The fashion bug…
It all started after a comment from her dad. Cromwell had finished with high school and was unsure as to her next steps apart from cycling. Always a fan of clothes and shopping, her father suggested taking up fashion as a field of study, which is exactly what Cromwell did by immediately enrolling in a course at Australia’s Technical and Further Education (TAFE) school in South Australia.
“I love fashion, and TAFE has a really good fashion program, so I started studying right away,” said Cromwell.
“But due to my racing career taking me all over the world, I never really had a chance to complete the course because its so hands on. But it did give me the basic skills from an industry and graphics side of things.”
Cromwell quickly put those new skills to the test, and debuted her new line Tiffany Jane in 2008, with a second collection the following year. At first, her women’s cycling apparel was based on simple designs with little thought to cut, fit or performance.
“You have start somewhere, so cycling apparel was an obvious choice,” said Cromwell.
“There was a real big gap in the market for really nice women’s cycling garments so that’s where it started with a very small range initially which was more about the design and not so much about the cuts, garments or the technical side of things.”
Now with substantially more experience racing in cycling kits as well as designing them, Cromwell is getting serious about finding the time in her already hectic schedule to expand her business and broaden her range.
“I just want to create some really cool cycling gear for women as the sport has never been more popular, and there’s never been a better time to provide more comfortable and fashionable choices,” she said.
“At the moment, kits are either cut wrong for women, or the designs are just pink and flowery. I really want to create high fashion with cycling apparel and get the best of both worlds, plus provide some urban gear for people that don’t want to wear Lycra.”
With global apparel brand Lululemon Athletica, which specialises in technical athletic apparel for yoga, running, dancing and fitness, as a team sponsor, Sportette asked Cromwell if she had taken any cues from the industry giant.
“I’ve definitely thought about approaching them,” she said.
“I’d love to do some work experience with Lululemon as they are an amazing company, and design clothing for active people. They do so much more than just yoga apparel.
“They look at fashion runways to get inspiration. In fact, our current team kit is inspired by a Pierre Balmain dress from one of the French designer’s European fashion shows. Lululemon then commissioned independent artist Florence Angelica Colson to create it. They really look at all these different areas, not just from the sports world, and that’s what inspires me.”
So what’s next…?
So to reiterate, just what is next for Cromwell who wrapped up the Ladies Tour of Norway with a fifth-place overall standing in both the general and mountain classifications, as well as seventh in points?
“A great performance at the World Championships is certainly a goal, but so is winning a national title in January,” she said.
“I’d also like a few more results to pick my level up further, maybe some World Cup podiums and a few more victories would be nice.
Off the bike, Cromwell is busy reviewing samples received from her pattern maker in Macedonia to use in her next collection for Tiffany Jane, and often finds creative inspiration during hours of alone-time training on the roads of surrounding her Central European home base in the South of France.
“Up until now, Tiffany Jane has been very much a hobby which is why it has taken so long to really get off the ground. But now, aside from my cycling goals, the biggest thing I would like to accomplish in the relative short term is to get my fashion label up and running and to turn it into something a bit more than just a hobby.
“But if it never evolves beyond that, I am still in such an amazing position in that I travel all around the world and meet so many different and interesting people. There are opportunities everywhere and I want to take advantage of all of them.
“All while keeping everything in perspective of course.”
Sportette guest contributor Aaron S. Lee is Sydney-based American sports journalist and a columnist for Eurosport, and can be followed on Twitter @aaronshanelee