DISTANCE 50 miles (80km)
MAIN CLIMB None really
TOTAL CLIMB 320 metres
ACHTUNG! Frisky foals
If there’s one thing that British cycling (with a small c) has always done well, it’s produce true amateur champions. Dedicated people with full-time jobs who can hold their own against the professionals, and sometimes even beat them.
Julia Shaw is one such inspiring amateur. She fits her training in around a very demanding job, but still keeps winning national titles. Add to that the fact that she did no kind of sport until her twenties, and it was 10 years after that before she got seriously into cycling, and Shaw is a fine example of what can be done with application, natural talent and a lot of desire.
“I didn’t do any sport outside school, and I certainly didn’t do any at university. Eventually though, I got into triathlon when I started work, because a guy I worked with did them and he seemed to be having a lot of fun. The triathletes I met were such nice people I just sort of got hooked,” she says.
‘Fun’ and ‘nice people’ are words Shaw uses a lot. Both are clearly very important to her. She takes her sport seriously — you wouldn’t expect a research scientist with a Master’s degree in physics to do any other, but as well as being a statement of her athletic potential, cycling is something she simply enjoys.
“I’m quite adventurous. I train hard and quite specifically, but I also enjoy using my bike to follow a road just because I don’t know where it goes. That’s one of the reasons I love riding in this area, there are lots of quiet roads and pretty scenery, as well as a nice variety of heath and forest. And there are no big hills. When I get out after a stressful day I’m soon thinking ‘there, that wasn‘t so bad was it?’” she says.
The best place to start this ride is from one of the many car parks in the New Forest. It’s right on Shaw’s front doorstep and she is soon onto her regular training roads, bowling along on her time trial bike. “I ride it a lot in the summer. If it’s not raining I use this bike because it makes sense to ride as much as possible in your race position. The bike handles well and it’s quite nice to ride anyway,” she says.
Shaw smiles a lot, and is very modest and self-deprecating. However, she is still very competitive. “I like winning,” she admits when I ask her what keeps her going. And she applies her scientist’s brain to ensuring that she keeps on doing it. “I’ve consistently improved throughout my cycling career. I did think about stopping last year, but I had a good year and I had begun to work with Jamie Pringle as my coach. He says that his riders always improve in their second year with him. So I had to find out,” she says.
Shaw is very numbers orientated. “You know where you are with figures. A couple of years ago I bought some power cranks and they have helped a lot. I had a lot of advice from Auriel Forrester at the time and she showed me how to make them work for me. Last winter I went to a wind tunnel and was assessed by a company called Drag 2 Zero.
“That was interesting. The information focused my mind on my position and I’ve adopted some changes since. It’s surprising what differences helmets, riding style and skinsuits make. But I’m giving away my secrets now,” she says, smiling again.
From the depths of the New Forest the ride ambles towards the coast, skirting the yachties’ paradise of Lymington, to take in a lovely flat and deserted road with fantastic views over the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
Here Shaw drops onto her tri bars and picks up speed. She looks incredibly comfortable, relaxed. The form is coming back after a two-week mid-season rest, one of Pringle’s ideas that she’s trying for the first time.
“Last year I started racing in March and by July I’d had enough really. The idea is that a rest now will help me for targets later on, like the Masters World Time Trial Championship in Austria at the end of August, and the National Time Trial Championships. I’d like to do well in that.
“I won it in 2005. That was the year before the Commonwealth Games and if I have one regret, and one criticism about the system in Britain really, it’s that I wasn’t even considered to go. British Cycling have done a fantastic job, but I still think it would give riders outside of the system something to strive especially hard for if they thought they could be at least considered,” she says.
Disappointment is not something Shaw dwells on for long though. Soon she’s pointing out local beauty spots and rolling into Beaulieu. “ I used to do my open-water swim training here. A group of us used to swim here when the tide was in; the harbour master didn’t like it though.”
The rest of the ride continues over Beaulieu Heath, and skirts the edge of Totton. Southampton is just over the water, but it may as well be a million miles away with the sparse number of cars on the road. “Ponies are likely to be more of a problem here, especially the foals because they haven’t seen many bikes and tend to get frightened by them. They are very unpredictable,” says Shaw.
For the future, Shaw will “carry on racing for as long as I’m improving, but I’ll always cycle. I like feeling fit, but cycling is especially sociable, and you see a lot more than you do in a car. Having said that though, I’ll probably mix cycling with doing other activities, like running and swimming. Maybe I’ll have a go at triathlon again, or some other multi-sports events.”
For the time being she’s entirely focused on improving her cycling, both in terms of times and her tally of race victories. Already this year she has recorded the second-fastest 10-mile time ever by a British woman, and she beat young Jo Rowsell, a full-time supported athlete well inside the British Cycling system. “It maybe wasn’t a target for her, like it was for me, but winning was still very satisfying,” says Shaw.
YOUR GUIDE: JULIA SHAW
Age 42, lives in Bramshaw, Hampshire with partner Andrew
Born in the Wirral, attended Essex university and gained a degree in Physics
Has a Masters and works as a research scientist in fibre optics
Nine times a National Time Trial Champion
From car park on Bolderwood Ornamental Drive go south-east on unclassified, cross A35 to Brockenhurst, follow road west then SW and turn left (TL) at junction with B3058 onto unclass. and follow signs to Tiptoe and Sway. TL on B3055 and turn right (TR) on unclass. Head to Boldre, TR on unclass. after bridge over Lymington river.
Go to South Baddesley, TL on unclass. to East End, head to Beaulieu. TR on B3056. TR on unclass. over Beaulieu Heath, follow road to A35, TL on A35 and TR on unclass. over A336, A31 and under M27 to Furzley Common. TL, go through Bramshaw over B3078 and under the A31 back to the Ornamental Drive.