Just two years ago, James Shaw was about to become the youngest Briton to have joined a World Tour team. He had penned a two-year contract with Lotto Soudal having shone as a stagiaire for them in the second half of the 2016 season. At just 20 years of age, it seemed his future in cycling was very bright indeed.
But fast forward to now, and his future in cycling is far from certain. He found out in September that Lotto Soudal had decided not to renew his contract. To make matters worse, James then crashed in his final race of the season, Il Lombardia, breaking his left collarbone in two places. As the end of the year approaches, he is still searching for a team.
Why? On the surface, the answer is not completely clear. Despite his young age, he quietly impressed at Lotto Soudal with two seasons of reliable, diligent work as a domestique in some of the world’s top races. And towards the end of this season, he showed he was also capable of animating races, getting into the break in attacking displays at the Deutschland Tour and the Tour of Britain. He then showed himself to be one of the world’s top young riders with 10th place in the U23 world road race championships.
At the same time, however, this year has been an unusually tough contract year. Many top riders are still searching for contracts. World Tour squad sizes have reduced following the UCI rule change which reduced maximum team sizes in races. And team closures have resulted in fewer Pro Continental teams, meaning fewer spots for professional riders in general.
Time’s running out though really ain’t it?James (@JamesthingyShaw) December 15, 2018
With no contract in place for 2019, time is now running out for the 22-year old to salvage his cycling career.
We caught up briefly with James to get an update on his contract situation, how he’s feeling about his prospects, and the idea behind #thenocontracttrainingcamp.
So first of all, you said earlier on Twitter that there are “no signs yet” of any contract for 2019. Have there been any discussions at all in the last month or so?
My agent is on the job! But he hasn’t had much success sadly.
How hopeful are you that something will work out?
Well, time isn’t standing still, and it is dawning in my mind [that things may not work out]. But I’ve remained very hopeful and I have started training as per usual.
You’ve remained very open about your situation in social media and in interviews. Why is that?
To me, there’s no point hiding the truth. It builds up inside you. Plus I think you owe it to the people in cycling. They’re the ones who put thousands of pounds into you and I think as an athlete you owe them the truth. This way, it also answers people’s questions before they’ve asked them. I like to be upfront and clear about things.
The clock is ticking, but I’ve got age on my side.
And the fact you’re back in training. Does that mean you’re still in the mindset that you will be racing again next season, despite the ticking clock?
As soon as I’m given the opportunity I’ll be grabbing it with both hands. I still want to race. The clock is ticking, but I’ve got age on my side.
And tell me about #thenocontracttrainingcamp. What was the thinking behind that?
Well, everyone else seemed to be on camps with their new teams and I thought, why not have my own? So me and Alex Braybrooke [Ed: James rode with Alex in the Lotto Soudal U23 team] booked some flights and off we went. Ten days in Girona. Get the miles in, job’s a good’un. Much better than previous years’ winter camps!
How does the riding on the camp different to what you’d normally do a training camp?
Same training, just a more relaxed environment.
I’ve no intention of quitting cycling yet. There is nothing else I could do.
So you’re training hard and not intent on giving up on cycling. Have you given any thought as to what you’d do if you don’t get offered a contract?
No. I’ve no intention of quitting cycling yet. There is nothing else I could do.
You’re only 22, you just came 10th in the U23 world road race championships in less than ideal conditions [Ed: he was informed his contract would not be renewed just two days before] and by my calculations, you were the youngest Briton ever to be given a World Tour contract. What would say to prospective teams out there?
I believe I’m a reliable, trustworthy, clean rider that can perform in a team. But I’m also independent enough to survive on my own.
Postscript: We wish James the very best with finding a new team for 2019.
You can follow James’ ‘no contract training camp’ on Instagram using the hashtag #thenocontracttrainingcamp
Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWPix