Former elite triathlete Rhae Shaw made the move to full-time professional cycling last season and the potential she showed in her first year of competition has been recognized by Exergy Twenty12, which has added her to its full-time roster for next season.
Shaw, who resides in Seattle, Washington, took third in the Canadian time trial championship before embarking for Europe with the national team. There, she took her first European win in the time trial of the Tour de Bretagne Féminin, and soloed to victory for another win the following stage. She finished the race third overall.
Shaw won another time trial in the Tour Féminin en Limousin and led the race for one stage, but fractured her hand in a crash on that first trip across the pond. She was chosen to represent her country at the UCI road world championships and placed seventh in the time trial and held the fastest time for two hours.
The move to Exergy Twenty12 will see Shaw join forces with Kristin Armstrong, who won gold in the women’s time trial at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and returned to action last season after taking a break to have a child, and Shaw told Cyclingnews she is excited to team up with such a talented group of experienced riders.
"My goal for 2012 is to continue to improve and Exergy will be phenomenal for that. We'll be at top notch races, and I will get to learn from Armstrong, which is huge for me. She's the best in the business."
Like Armstrong, Shaw hopes to represent her country at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, but knows that getting chosen for one of two spots for Canada's team in the time trial will be a tall order.
"Racing in the Olympics and representing Canada would be a dream come true for me and I am incredibly excited to be in a position where I have the potential to represent my country at the highest levels. There are so many talented Canadian women cyclists riding really well that selection for the team is going to be very difficult."
Forging a new path
Shaw's path from triathlete to contender for London started at age 35 when she made the decision to quit her job of 12 years as a technical advisor to the CEO of Microsoft and take up racing her bike full time this season - a decision that came after eight years of racing Ironman triathlons to the point that the sport no longer was enticing.
"When I looked at the Ironman calendar for 2011 none of the major races were exciting. I wasn't even excited about doing Kona, and if you're not excited about the world championships, well.. in order to put your body through that you have to be passionate. I decided to change things up so I could still be excited about a sport."
She found her new inspiration while watching an old recording of the time trial world championships, and decided it was time to focus on something different. But if she thought she would just spend a year off from work, racing her bike in preparation for a return to triathlon in 2012, Shaw was seduced by the prospect of mastering new skills and negotiating different circles and went all in.
It can be daunting to launch into a national and international racing calendar as a relatively new road racer, but Shaw used the burgeoning racing scene in Seattle, where she raced with the elite men, and support from her boyfriend and fellow racer Lang Reynolds and her coach to quickly find success in the US.
Shaw funded her own domestic season, hitting Redlands, Sea Otter, where she placed second in the time trial to Armstrong, and the Tour of the Gila, where she took second to compatriot Clara Hughes in the time trial, all the while picking up new skills and getting a feel for the road racing scene.
"It was the best way to work on race tactics, bike handling - to learn things. I'd never had a feed from a car, or a wheel change. I learned as much as I could.
"Redlands was my first NRC race experience, and I was nervous and overwhelmed. My coach told me to watch people like Kristin Armstrong, and I said, 'ok, I'll look up her number'!," she laughed. "I didn't even know what she looked like and now we're teammates!
"The hardest part was getting on a composite team for the race, because I was new and didn't have the experience. But I finished Redlands, and I made the second group on the final stage - finished 12th - it was solid. I enjoyed it, and I knew I had made a good decision."
Her success at the Canadian National Championships, where she took third in the time trial and criterium and ninth in the road race, was critical to the next step in her progression; racing in Europe.
"Kudos to Team Canada for taking me to Europe. The cool thing was that I won a road stage there, Canada hasn't won too many races in Europe. To take a new racer was a big risk for them. I'm happy that they were willing to overlook my lack of experience."
The team showed further faith in Shaw by selecting her to its squad for the world championships. While she knew based upon her previous results that she would be one of the fastest early starters, Shaw said she oscillated between confidence and fear of coming in last place until finally, at race time, she was relaxed and calm.
"The entire week was a great experience... I thought I could come top 25, and a top 10 was a long shot, but to spend two hours in the hot seat and come in seventh was surreal - it was super cool.
"Canadian cycling is super exciting right now - there's a lot of momentum and it's really positive - there are people who are act and talk like they're going to win and it just spreads."
That kind of winning dynamic has also been prevalent in the Peanut Butter & Co/Twenty12 team which will be named Exergy Twenty12 next season, and Shaw is excited to have a group of women to race with who have proven abilities but are also fun to be around.
"I've been thrilled with the change. The team dynamics are so new, it was important to me to select a team where the management and the personalities ... you spend so much time travelling together I wanted to be with women I would enjoy spending time with. I gave up my job to do this, and I want to make sure it's going to be enjoyable. It was a huge factor in my decision to join Exergy."
Shaw will continue to reside in Seattle, but will spend time over the winter training in Northern California with the team in preparation for the 2012 road season.