James Shaw admits he’s itching to get back into the World Tour after dusting himself down from the disappointment of being dropped by Lotto-Soudal last season.
The 23-year-old, who returned to British shores for the 2019 season with Swift Carbon Pro Cycling, will be once again rubbing shoulders with cycling’s elite tomorrow afternoon at the RideLondon-Surrey Classic.
The 169km race is the UK’s only entry on the World Tour calendar and Shaw will be part of a strong GB team which also includes rising track and road star Ethan Hayter and former national road race champion Conor Swift.
He sees it as a great opportunity to put himself back in the mind of WT sports directors and prove himself against the top-level riders.
“I’m massively looking forward to it. I am feeling confident about the course change for this year,” he said.
“An opportunity like this is truly priceless. I can not thank Team GB enough for the opportunities of late they have provided. I really do appreciate their faith and support in what has been a difficult year for me.
“It allows riders such as myself to rub shoulders with the best in the sport and show our true colours.”
The best in the sport will certainly be out in force with a host of stage winners from this year’s Tour de France – including Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan, Daryl Impey and one-time yellow jersey wearer Mike Teunissen – taking to the start line.
Organisers have also tweaked the course for this year’s race with the peloton tackling the iconic Box Hill climb a gruelling five times.Embed from Getty Images
Box Hill is, of course, synonymous with the London 2012 Olympic Games road race which climbed it a leg-sapping nine times.
And Shaw said: “A new course is always a bit more exciting. In all honesty, I’m not sure who or how the race will go.
“I think that the true sprinters will struggle but at the World Tour level, everyone can climb. It’s so impressive how the likes of Elia Viviani can go uphill. That is something that you don’t see on the TV at home.”
The race will be the first opportunity to experience World Tour racing for some of Shaw’s GB teammates, although Hayter, Team Wiggins Le Col rider Gabz Cullaigh, Vitus Pro Cycling’s Scott Thwaites and Canyon DHB’s Tom Stewart all raced this year’s Tour de Yorkshire.Embed from Getty Images
Despite that relative inexperience though, Shaw thinks the whole squad will benefit from the step up in class.
He said: “We have a competitive team going to London this weekend. I think everyone will learn something.
“You may not realise it there and then but at some point, the penny will drop and you’ll be amazing at something you learnt in the past.
“In all honesty, I’ll be looking at them to help myself. A good team can all feed off each other and help one another through.”
His departure from Lotto-Soudal surprised many, not least Shaw himself who was under the impression his role was to ride as a domestique and not worry about results.Embed from Getty Images
His season ended on a sour note with a broken collarbone at his debut Monument – Il Lombardia – and, when it came to the crunch, his lack of results – plus a natural reduction in team roster sizes – ultimately cost him.
There’s no doubt it was a huge blow but Nottinghamshire-based Shaw has no regrets about how his time with the team – which followed a stint with the Lotto-Soudal under-23 development squad – went.
His season with Swift Carbon has been getting better in terms of results and Nottingham-born Shaw is the current leader of the National Road Race Series standings after a strong performance at last weekend’s South Coast Classic.
Winning the series wasn’t the plan and he knows this weekend might see him lose the jersey with his domestic rivals in action at the re-booted Cycle 360 Manx International.
But he said: “It’s hard to target a series as you never know what’s going to happen, illness, injury etc can occur.
“But once I realised that I could take the lead at the South Coast I made it an aim for the day to try and take it.
“I’ve made it hard for myself to win as I won’t be participating at this weekend’s series event in the Isle of Man due to other races on the calendar.”Embed from Getty Images
Shaw believes the overall strength of the domestic scene is strong but admits the UK-style of racing took a bit of getting used to.
He said: “The level of riders and strength of the top riders in the UK is equal if not better than any other continental level races in the world if you ask me.
“The likes of Matt Homles, Rory Townsend, Scott Thwaites are more than capable of holding their own in world-class teams.
“The style of racing is very different to what I’ve done in the past two years. With Lotto-Soudal the races were very controlled and organised by the teams. In the UK it’s the opposite.
“This year there has almost been two races going on – teams wanting Tour of Britain qualification and teams wanting to win the individual race.
“It took a while for me to get to grips with the nature of the races so it certainly wasn’t easy to slip back into.”
One criticism often levelled at the British domestic scene is the lack of variety in the races.
And Shaw feels organisers and teams need more help from the sport’s governing body to push things to the next level.
“I feel that the passion from race organisers is there to put on quality races and a good variety however I feel that lack of direction and support from British Cycling is holding it back from hitting the big time.Embed from Getty Images
“If a little more was done to provide teams with the support and means to race on a financially equal level than it should, in theory, inspire more managers and sponsors to commit more to a long term team with goals going far into the future.”
Tomorrow will give Shaw another chance to taste the top level of the sport he clearly still loves.
But he knows it’s just the start of another new journey.
He said: “100% the aim to get myself back into the professional peloton.”
Given the form he’s shown this season, you wouldn’t bet against Shaw completing that journey of redemption sooner rather than later…
Main image courtesy of Swift Carbon Pro Cycling.