Tiff Cromwell and Valtteri Bottas pose for a portrait. They're in front of a vineyard, wearing cycling kit and helmets, and have their arms around each other.

Five rides that changed us: Tiff Cromwell and Valtteri Bottas

The Australian pro cyclist and the F1 driver are a fixture at gravel events - here are the rides that changed them, individually and as a couple.

David McQuillen
by David McQuillen 30.05.2024 Photography by
Hostile Media and Tiffany Cromwell and Valtteri Bottas
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by Tiffany Cromwell and Valtteri Bottas, as told to David McQuillen

Tiffany Cromwell is a professional cyclist from Australia. Currently riding road and gravel for the Canyon-SRAM team, she’s consistently finished in the top 10 of races like the World Road Championships, Tour of Flanders, and the Tour Down Under, as well as achieving podiums in gravel events like SBT GRVL and Belgian Waffle Ride.

Valterri Bottas is a Formula 1 driver from Finland. One of the most popular drivers on the circuit, he has 10 victories and 67 podiums on his palmarès as well as five constructors championships. He races for Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber. When he’s not in a car, he can be found racing in gravel events around the world.

They are also entrepreneurs. Valtteri has his own coffee roasting business, among other things, and Cromwell’s Tiffany Jane Design has partnered with numerous brands and projects. Together, they have founded the gin brand ‘Oath,’ and partner with the GRVL gravel event brand (owned by Amy Charity) to expand from the original SBT GRVL race to new events in Finland (FNLD GRVL) and South Australia (RADL GRVL).

Both riders are set to race Unbound Gravel this weekend – Tiffany in the elite women’s field in the 200-mile event, while Valtteri will race in the 100-miler in the men’s 30-39 category.

Learning a lesson the hard way, Stelvio, Italy, 2007 (Tiffany)

I was on a development trip with the Australia national team, which was doing a three week research altitude training camp in preparation for the Beijing Olympics. It was the U23 men, the elite women, and a few pro men who weren’t racing at the Tour de France. Being pretty young and ambitious I was keen to show off and impress everybody, so I was determined to stay on the wheels, and mix it up, with the men. I was pushing like crazy and going way over my limit, but I finished with them and was super happy, if quite tired, that evening. Then I paid for it. We were staying at the top of the Stelvio, at altitude (2,700m), and I’d never really done that before. I quickly found out that you’re not supposed to go hard when you first arrive at altitude. For the remaining two weeks of that camp, I simply couldn’t scratch myself and spent the rest of the camp on my knees paying for the effort made that day. It was a big lesson for me about paying attention to the sports science, listening to my body, and doing what’s right for me rather than trying to impress others. 

Getting flicked, SBT GRVL, Colorado, 2021 (Valtteri)

My main sport is pretty hectic and serious. I love riding, but wasn’t really interested in road racing as it seemed quite the same. Tiff suggested I try a gravel event because it was completely different: relaxed, easy-going, having some beers together at the end. My kind of vibe. So I did the 60-mile course and it was my first ever race, the first time I was in a big bunch. I was trying to figure out where to be, how to work as a group – everything was new to me. I was doing well – suffering, of course, but I managed to hang onto the main group. With an hour to go, I really needed to use the toilet and so I asked the guys if we could stop. They said, “Sure, we’ll stop at the top of this hill.” As soon as we got to the top, I unclipped at the side of the road. Nobody else stopped. I chased by myself for the last 45 minutes. I ended up finishing second in my age group by less than two minutes. I don’t stop in races anymore.

Valterri Bottas leads Tiff Cromwell and other riders at a gravel race. Bottas is on the attack while Cromwell is bent over the bars in an aero tuck behind.
Valtteri and Tiff racing at RADL GRVL. Photo © Hostile Media

Nastola to Russia, Finland, 2020

Tiffany: We were at Valti’s lake house in Nastola, Finland during Covid and looking for a challenge, as most people were during that time. In Finland, we were allowed outside around the countryside, and didn’t have so many restrictions unlike the rest of Europe. So we decided to ride to the Russian border, 200 km away. We made stops along the way and were posting on social media as we went.

Valtteri: When we got to the border, the Finnish guard said, “I’ve been expecting you!” Turns out he had been following our journey on Instagram and he showed us around the border control a little bit. That was the longest ride I’ve ever done. I’d always been amazed at how anyone could ride those crazy distances and now I saw that I could do it too. My bum sure hurt, though. 

Tiffany: Up until that point, we had only ever ridden for an hour or two together. But that ride changed us – it showed that we could do big rides and have adventures together. And that’s exactly what we started doing.

Going into the Arctic Circle without a plan, Finland, 2022

Valtteri: We were at the very top of Finland – in the Arctic Circle – at the border with Sweden and Norway. We wanted to do a 100 km gravel ride. We didn’t know anything about the area or where we were going, but we just hopped on our bikes and headed down the road with no plan and no idea of what was ahead.

Tiffany: It was epic. We had snow crossings, glaciers all around us, and huge chunky rocks in every direction. It was as remote as you could possibly be – no place to fill up with water or food. No way to get help if something happened. Certainly no people. It was a real thrill to just ride and live in that moment.

Valtteri: It was a true escape from everything. I’ll never forget it. It reminded me how much is out there if you’re willing to explore, to get off your normal path, to take chances and go somewhere new. 

Tiffany: I love riding and racing. I don’t always enjoy training. I do it because it’s my job and so I’m used to planning every detail of every ride, especially when needing to do race-specific efforts. This was a day with no plan at all – no idea of what we were even getting ourselves into. And that gave me so much joy. And days like that one – where we can discover things and ride hard together –  are the ones that I love the most.

Racing each other, Australia, 2022

Valtteri: RADL GRVL was the first race we organised in Australia. And it was also the first where we both did the same distance and were serious about doing well. We started in the same group.

Tiffany: I’d just finished the Women’s Tour Down Under, had a ton of media engagements and was pretty well running on fumes when the race started. I went backwards from the word go. Then Val passed me on the first climb and I was like “Seriously?”

Valtteri: I definitely expected Tiff to drop me on that first climb but it was vice versa. Hah, yeah, that was good.  

Tiffany: We ended up together in a fast group of around 10 riders. I was trying to teach him how to race properly because he was smashing it up all the climbs and then nobody wanted to roll through with him. 

Valtteri: Well it was frustrating because it was too slow!

Tiffany: And then you crashed in the sand with 10 km to go and we never saw you again. 

Valtteri: At least I didn’t stop for a pee this time. There were some really strong riders in that group – I was happy that I was able to do the ride that I did. [4th in age group. – Ed.]

Tiffany: You really stepped up a level with that performance. And I learned that no matter how much is going on, no matter how tired I might be, if I can find the right motivation to push on – in this case, not getting dropped by Valterri– then I can race hard. [6th in Elite Women. And a cushy two minutes ahead of Valterri. – Ed.]

Valtteri Bottas and Tiffany Cromwell climb close together on their gravel bikes.
Photo © Hostile Media

About Five Rides

We all have rides that we’ll remember forever. A bucket-list climb. A new skill. An incredible performance. A crash. A new friend. An adventure. But which ones truly changed us? Five Rides captures the rides which had a lasting impact on one particular person. Five Rides that really mattered. What are your Five Rides? Comment here or head over to Escape Collective’s Discord to discuss.

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