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Big fish in a small pond: James Shaw interview

23-year-old SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling rider on his 2019 season, the transition from World Tour to Conti level and what might be on the cards for 2020

It’s sometimes easy to forget that James Shaw is still only 23-years old. Officially, this is his first season out of the under-23 ranks. But he’s distinguished himself so quickly, he already seems like established rider with a solid repuation. He joined the World Tour at the age of just 20 and had two and a half years of impressive service with Lotto Soudal. And he finished 2018 with a top 10 at the U23 World Championships.

Despite such an impressive start to his cycling career, however, Shaw finished 2019 wondering if he had a future in the sport at all. Lotto Soudal had not renewed his contract and he told us in an interview that that ‘time was running out’ to find a new team.

Thankfully, the new British Continental outfit SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling stepped in with an offer and he embarked on what has arguably been his most successful season to date, for a results perspective at least. As a ‘big fish in a small pond’, Shaw has adapted well to the different culture and demands of the domestic scene. He’s hardly missed a beat, his results a study in consistency.

He’s now the 14th highest British point scorer in the UCI’s World Rankings, the highest-placed of any rider on a British Continental team. Highlights this year include:

  • 4th overall at the Tour du Loir et Cher (2.2) in April
  • 5th overall at the Tour de Yorkshire (2.HC) in May
  • 10th overall at Szlakiem Hubala (2.1) in June
  • A stage win and the overall classification at the Tour of the Reservoir (Nat A) in June
  • 10th at the Tokyo 2020 Test Event (1.2) in July
  • A long-range win at the Ryedale Grand Prix (Nat A) in August
  • 3rd overall in the National Road Series

He’s now aiming to finish the season with a bang at the Tour of Britain. We caught up with Shaw to find out about his season so far, the transition from World Tour to Continental level – and from domestique to team leader – and what might be in store next season.

I think I made the right decision in February to commit to racing again in the UK and to me it will pay off

James Shaw at the Tour de Yorkshire 2019. Photo: James York / www.jamesyorkphoto.com

The last time we spoke, you told us that ‘time was running out’ as you sought a team for this season. How close did you get to securing the World Tour or Pro Conti contract you were after? Did you come close to quitting at all?

In all honesty, I think the only chance of getting a World Tour ride for 2019 was in my head. It’s only now I realise that. However, I think I made the right decision in February to commit to racing again in the UK and to me it will pay off. 

How did the move to SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling come about? What made you decide to accept their offer?

To be honest, by February it was the only team that had places left for me. Every other team was full. I had no choice but to commit to the offer. So I did. And a few days later I went along to the team launch at Leeds United’s stadium to meet everyone.

James Shaw after stage 2 of the Tour de Reservoir. Photo: James York / www.jamesyorkphoto.com

How much of an adjustment has it been for you, stepping down from a World Tour team to the Continental level?

I would say the level is almost the same but it’s the style of racing that’s different. The UK is literally attacking all day, it’s almost a bit of ‘last man standing’, whereas last year in the World Tour it was more controlled and teams worked together more to gain a victory for one rider as a team.

It seems like you’ve been the leader in pretty much every race you’ve ridden. To what extent has that transition from domestique at Lotto to team leader at SwiftCarbon been an adjustment process for you?  

The transition has been very enjoyable. It has however been a rollercoaster of an adventure and I think that is what I have had to adjust to. Between Jacob Scott and myself we’ve managed 3 wins in the National Road Series.

The passion and love for the sport is possibly greater

You’ve ridden much of the National Road Series this season. How does domestic racing compare to what you’d been used to at Lotto?

I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I said there was less money involved. Not as many flash team buses, etc., but the passion and love for the sport is possibly greater. There are maybe a handful of riders in the UK doing it to make a living whereas further up the ranks everyone is doing it to make a living, so it loses that sense of purity.

And what do you make of the domestic racing scene generally?

The races are superb and the commitment from the riders is amazing. However I do feel that the domestic calendar does need bit of a facelift if its to get back to the level it’s been previously. The domestic scene is struggling a little at the moment with teams folding left, right and centre. It’s making it ever so difficult to keep riders in teams and to further the development of the next generation.

James Shaw wins stage 2 of the Tour de Reservoir. Photo: James York / www.jamesyorkphoto.com

You’ve had some great results in 2019. What have been the highlights?

For me, it was my 5th at the Tour of Yorkshire and winning the Tour of the Reservoir. These two results just stand out as key to this season in my mind.

You seem to have been consistently strong throughout the season. How have you approach things training-wise? Were you aiming to peak in events like Yorkshire, or was the plan to be at a good level throughout?

I work very closely with a training company called TrainSharp. They have been ‘managing the accounts’, so to say, and by that I mean the power profiles in races and training. Yes, the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain will be, and have been, the peaks for the season, but I’ve also wanted to keep my form and conditioning throughout the domestic season to help gain the team’s qualification for the Tour of Britain.

You missed out on the chance to compete for the National Road Series win after riding RideLondon instead of the Manx International. Is that a disappointment at all?

No, I think when you get the chance to pull on your national jersey in-front of a home crowd and to try and show he worlds biggest teams your potential you have to grab it with both hands.

I think this year has allowed me to use more of a racing instinct and learn how to race

How do you think your experience at the domestic level this year has changed you? Both as a rider and a person?

I think this year has allowed me to use more of a racing instinct and learn how to race, whereas last year I didn’t have many chances to race. As a person, I’m not sure to be honest; maybe I’ll discover this next year or in years to come.

James Shaw wins the Ryedale Grand Prix, taking a 1-2 with teammate Jacob Scott. Photo: James York / www.jamesyorkphoto.com

What’s next on the race programme? What are your race goals for the rest of the year?

The Tour of Britain. I’ll be hitting that full gas I hope, and I’ll try and pull something out the bag.

Are the Worlds on the cards?

I’d like to tell myself I am but with Great Britain only qualifying for 6 riders, it’s going to be tough to make the grade.

And 2020. How’s it looking in terms of stepping back up to Pro Conti or World Tour level?

Who knows what 2020 will bring but I’m hoping to know soon and then I can put my mind at rest and work towards future goals.

Featured photo: James Shaw at the 2019 Ryedale Grand Prix. Photo: James York / www.jamesyorkphoto.com