These days the tried-and-trusted approach most British riders graduate through is via the national academy in Manchester, but occasionally a rider comes along and does it his or her way. They forgo the norm and embark on a path less travelled.
James Shaw is one such rider. At 20, he is the latest talent to graduate from the Lotto Soudal U23 programme and is making his WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under.
"I’m generally looking after the team and looking after a few riders," he told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 3. "I’m making sure that everyone is fed and watered, and at the front when they need to be."
If his venture in Australia is about gaining experience then Shaw is in the right place. With the likes of Adam Hansen, Lars Bak and Thomas de Gendt on this Lotto team, the young Nottingham-born rider can pull from a worldliness level of wisdom.
"Things have gone up another level," he added. "I did the Tour of Britain last year, so it’s not been an overnight step for me. It’s been gradual but so far I’ve enjoyed it."
Shaw’s journey saw him leave home at the age 18, and while many of his contemporaries made the short commute to Manchester, Shaw hitched his way to Belgium - a throw back move to how British riders once made it on the continent.
"I did a lot of racing in Belgium when I was a junior because the scene in the UK didn’t quite fit my style of racing. I managed to win a few races and bumped into the U23 team manager via a friend called John Barclay. It took off from there really and I spent two years racing across Europe. For the 2017 season I was then offered the chance to go to the WorldTour team."
Barclay, for those not aware, is in his 80s but has helped a distinguished list of riders over the years, including Mark Cavendish, Ian Stannard, Jeremy Hunt and David Millar. In fact, he helped Shaw on one trip to Belgium a few years ago that culminated in the rider winning the junior version of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
"It’s heavily track based in the UK, especially if you’re a junior," Shaw says as he recalls why he moved to Belgium. "I enjoyed the track but it wasn’t where I wanted to go. I thought that it was best that forge my own path as opposed to going through the track.
"There are advantages and disadvantages. I had to move out from my parents when I was 18. I had to live abroad and fend for myself. If I’d been in Manchester with the British Academy, I would have been closer to home. It would have been easier in that sense, but it would have been a stricter lifestyle on the track."
After the Tour Down Under, Shaw will race the Cadel Evans race before heading to Abu Dhabi. After that he returns to Belgium.
"It’s my first year and I’ve got a while to develop," he said. "I’m willing to invest time as well a bit of effort. I just want to use the next year to gain as much experience as possible and grow as a person and a rider.”
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