James Shaw has surprised himself by signing a two-year professional contract with WorldTour outfit Lotto-Soudal after a successful two months as a stagiaire.
The 20-year-old is making the step up from the Belgian team’s U23 squad, whom he has raced for in the past two years. Winner of the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne junior race in 2014, Shaw finished fifth at the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, third at the one-day Flèche Ardennaise in May and tenth overall at the Tour of Normandy.
He was given the opportunity to ride as a stagiaire towards the end of this season and he was a frequent sight at the head of the peloton during the Tour of Britain, driving the bunch in protection of his teammate André Griepel. His performance at the national tour earned him several plaudits.
The Derbyshire-born rider, however, never envisaged that the stagiaire-ship would lead to a professional contract.
“I definitely out-did myself during my stagiaire months,” he told Cycling Weekly from Qatar where he is set to race Thursday’s under-23 men’s road race at the World Championships.
“I don’t really know where I pulled that ride from in the Tour of Britain. Each day I was getting more sore and my legs were hurting but I hacked at it and continued to be on the front.
“I seen the stagiaire as a great opportunity to see what it’s like at that level and maybe impress. I honestly expected to be an U23 amateur again next year.
“But after the Tour of Britain the opportunity to turn pro arose. I was ever so grateful just to be a stagiaire. It’s brilliant for me.
“I’m massively looking forward to it and getting stuck in. I’ll be collecting bottles and sitting on the front next year, but I don’t mind that. You start from the bottom and work your way up.”
Shaw is the fifth young British rider to secure a WorldTour contract for 2017, with Olympic team pursuit champion Owain Doull having joined Sky alongside Tao Geoghegan Hart. Hugh Carthy and Jon Dibben have both signed for Cannondale-Drapac.
Shaw, Carthy and Geoghegan Hart have all progressed via the traditional route of moving away to a different country to live and race, as opposed to being on British Cycling’s Academy programmes.
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Both methods work, Shaw says, and neither is better than the other.
“I personally don’t think the British Cycling route is harder or easier,” the Dave Rayner Funded rider said. “You’ve still got to make it and if you are good enough you will, if you’re not, you won’t.
“The Yateses are the best example: one went on the BC route [Simon], and the other [Adam] went to France supported by the Dave Rayner Fund. They both made it. It’s equally matched.
“I never had the opportunity to join the BC Academy but I don’t think it would have been for me. Equally, the Belgian route wouldn’t be right for a lot of people. Different things suit different riders.
“It’s hard to say which is better or not. I was on the BC talent team as a 16-year-old but never got the opportunity to move up. The one thing for sure is that something is going right in UK development.”