Tiffany Cromwell won a two-up sprint against Megan Guarnier (Rabobank) to capture the first European race of the season. With two former winners as teammates, Cromwell was part of a three-pronged attack for ORICA-AIS at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Patience paid off for the young Australian who initiated the race winning move between the final two sections of cobbles.
“It’s a fantastic team effort,” said Cromwell. “Any one of us could take the win today. As always, we supported each other, and I was happy to finish off the job.”
The opening hour of racing was a fairly quiet affair. The peloton first split up the Côte de Trieu.
“The race unfolded as we had expected,” explained Cromwell. “Usually not much happens until around the 50 kilometre mark. Until then, we are just meant to keep out of trouble and ensure we had numbers when the sectors start. “
The peloton split into three groups following the Côte de Trieu. The groups came back together. The field split again over the Patersberg. The small groups that formed merged to create a 60 strong lead group ahead of the Edelareberg.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic with the girls,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “I’m just really happy with how they race. They’re stepping it up as a team. It was impressive to see that they remained calm and focused as we got closer to the finish. We had an impact, but it was not creating the type of selection that had wanted to make – and they never panicked about that.”
With all eight climbs completed and five cobbled sections yet to come, a 16 rider front group solidified. ORICA-AIS was the best represented with Loes Gunnewijk, Emma Johansson and Gracie Elvin joining Cromwell in the move.
“We had representation each time the race split, but nothing was really happening despite all the action,” noted Cromwell. “There was a strong headwind, and most teams weren’t willing to help force the split.”
Cromwell took matters into her own hands with the final pavé sector looming.
“We had been using our numbers to our advantage and launching attacks that were going nowhere,” said Cromwell. “Finally, I went and Megan came with me. We got a gap immediately but she wasn’t working with me. I still considered it a good opportunity, so I worked – maybe a bit too much. Eventually Megan started rolling through. It was enough to hold off the chasing bunch.”
“We’re very lucky to have the likes of Emma and Loes who showed what true teammates they are today by supporting Tiff when she went down the road,” added McPartland. “Gracie was brilliant as well. She made the front group in her first European race with the team and had enough left to help Emma in the sprint. It was an excellent effort by everyone.”
Cromwell forced Guarnier to the front in the last kilometre. She came around the American to open up the sprint.
“I started sprinting with 300 metres,” Cromwell explained. “Megan didn’t contest the sprint. I don’t think she had anything left.”
With a lead-out from Elvin and Gunnewijk, Johansson won the bunch sprint to take third, giving ORICA-AIS two riders on the podium in Ghent. Johansson is a two-time former Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner while Cromwell earned her first classics victory today.
“Last year, Tiff learned from some of the best in the business with Judith [Arndt] and Loes,” said McPartland. “This year, Tiff knows how the team works and understands what is expected of her. She’s a rider I can always count on to take risks. A lot of times these risks don’t pay off, and this deters some riders. Not Tiff. There’s nothing conservative about how Tiff races. She takes risks, and she puts herself in a position to be rewarded.”