Talented British rider James Shaw is reaping the benefits of a hard winter and a foundation year in 2015 as he continues to make his mark in Europe.
The 19-year-old (20 this month) is in his second year at Lotto-Soudal U23, the development team to the WorldTour outfit. Along with first year junior Alex Braybrooke, he is the fourth Brit to ride for the Belgian team in seven years, Adam Blythe and Dan McLay having already progressed from their ranks.
>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
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.
Those results are just the progression he expected. “Did I need to step up a level [ this year]? In my head, yeah, definitely,” the Dave Rayner Funded rider told Cycling Weekly.
“As an amateur athlete looking to become a professional, you’re always looking to find that next step and when to make that next step. I needed to push myself over the winter, coming into the season and in races.
“After an apprentice year of survival, last year was about learning, and this year is about learning about bike racing. I’ve learned massively in the past twelve weeks.”
Shaw is part of a gifted collection of up-and-coming British riders which also includes Tao Geoghegan Hart, world champion Jon Dibben, Scott Davies and Gabriel Cullaigh.
It is the Ardennes where Shaw’s passion lies, but he is just as adept in stage races. He adds: “You know what you were when you eventually hang up the wheels. I’m only 19, I can’t say I’m one type of rider because that would remove me from half of the race calendar in a year. It’s hard to decide what you want to specialise in.
“I’d like to think I can hold a short race style of riding, nothing more than seven days with a short time trial. I can do that.
“I have a slight climbing ability in those Ardennes races, Liège and Flèche [Wallone]. For me, the heart is in the Ardennes, that’s my favourite style of races
“This year was the first year that I’ve ridden Liege so I didn’t really know what to expect,” he adds.
“It wasn’t a bad result. I look back at it now and think maybe I should have done things differently but you can’t look at it like that. I did what I could on the day.”