Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Words and images by Dominique Powers
Tiffany Cromwell is a professional cyclist on the Women’s WorldTeam team Canyon-SRAM. Cromwell has been on the team since its inception seven years ago, though she’s been racing on a professional level for 17.
The first time I met Tiffany I was in France photographing the Canyon-SRAM squad. It was in the run-up to the first-ever women’s Paris Roubaix, and it was my first time at a WorldTour race. I was immediately intimidated by Cromwell, because she felt like more. More than just a a person, rather the embodiment of what it means to be a professional athlete. The way she carries herself, with poise and also efficiency, hints at an innate strength.
Flash forward a month and Cromwell and I are riding next to each other on chunky gravel tires the day before Grinduro in Mt. Shasta, California. We swap tales of the adventures we’ve had over the weeks since we last saw each other. That evening, we spend some time during golden hour discussing Tiffany’s relationship with cycling, how it has changed, and the upcoming season.
Cycling will always be a part of Cromwell’s life, how could it not after spending her whole life as a cyclist? But for a moment, it seemed as if 2022 would be her last season on the bike.
While burnout was looming on the horizon, gravel racing provided a salvation. The new sport, offered as a way to keep Cromwell engaged while also providing the team visibility in gravel ending up being the motivation she needed.
“I think a lot of people respect gravel for what it is but don’t understand how hard it is,” Cromwell told me. “They think it’s all just fun and games, but they don’t realize it’s eight hours on the bike and your stress score is twice as much as a WorldTour race.”
But Cromwell isn’t just a robot on two wheels, she has a diversity of interests in her life. Between fashion, design, and starting a gin company with her partner Valtteri Bottas, she knows that when the time eventually does come for her to leave the professional racing scene she’ll be just as fulfilled in other exciting ways. She and Bottas are both world travelers, and their supportive relationship to one another is part of what keeps her steady; the reliability of having a person who understands the pressure and amount of effort it takes to excel keeps her grounded and centered.
The momentum in women’s cycling is so thick it’s almost tangible. The inclusion of the Tour de France Femmes adds to this. Everyone wants to race it, and hopefully the race brings more opportunities for more women to enter and stay in the sport.
Salaries are catching up, too. Cromwell says that it’s significantly better than it was just two years ago.
“At first it’s like wow! But then it’s like, finally! That’s what it should be and should have always been.”
Growing media coverage helps grow the sport, and it means a lot to both riders, teams, and their sponsors.
“There are so many creatives, so many amazing photographers working with us,” Cromwell says. “When I started there were only a handful of photographers. These days it’s opening the world to see us, and there are elements that you can only share if you open up to it. You always have a greater interest in the sport if you know people personally. Suddenly you start following a sport closer because you have that connection with the athletes.”
This is always my goal with photography, to engage the viewer with the subject in a way they never would have otherwise. Providing insight into their vulnerable sides and personality.