'The Tour de France wasn't part of the plan' - James Shaw's unlikely route to the world's biggest race

‘I came back from the Dauphiné in the best shape I’ve ever been in’ - the 27-year-old British rider believes impressive recent form earned him a place in EF’s Tour squad

James Shaw
(Image credit: Getty Images)

EF Education-EasyPost’s James Shaw has said that when his team was drawing up plans during the winter for the 2023 season, riding the Tour de France was never part of the plan for him. 

The 27-year-old British rider initially expected to be aiming towards goals later in the season which included riding the Vuelta a España. However, due to various different scenarios playing out, Shaw now finds himself in the Basque Country getting set for a maiden Tour outing in Bilbao on 1 July. 

Speaking to Cycling Weekly, Shaw explained that he feels he’s put in some solid work in training to earn a place in EF’s Tour squad and that he feels he finished the recent Critérium du Dauphiné in the best physical condition that he’s ever been in. 

“This was never the plan when we sat down in December in team camp for me to aim to ride the Tour de France,” Shaw said. “The Classics was not the Classics campaign I wanted, then I got Covid straight after it. Then I spent some time away at altitude and I think I came back from the Dauphiné in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in.

“If anything the Vuelta was the plan, so a pretty similar sort of thing to last year.”

Prior to becoming a professional bike rider, Shaw told CW that one of his earliest memories of the French Grand Tour was as an 11-year-old fan on the roadside when the Tour visited the UK in 2007. 

“I went to watch the Tour once when it came to London in 2007,” he explained. “So I would have been 11 and it was the first time I went to watch it. I went with Dad and a couple of his mates. We watched the prologue on the first day, then stood on the side of the road and watched stage one. 

“If I remember rightly, David Millar went on a big solo attack,” Shaw added. “That was my first experience of watching the Tour. I remember watching and thinking ‘one day’ when I was just a young bike rider then.”

James Shaw

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to souvenirs from the race, a lot of roadside fans try to grab something from the Tour’s caravane or if they’re lucky, a bidon from their favourite riders as the peloton rushes past. Although 11-year-old Shaw decided to go for a far larger prize.

“I actually stole a road sign! I stole one of the big ‘this road will be closed on such and such dates for the Tour de France’ signs and it’s now on the wall in my parents garage,” he said. 

“It was actually on my bedroom wall until I was about 16 or 17. It’s this great big yellow thing and it's still up on the wall there in the garage.

“I can actually remember trying to cut it off this pole and cut the cable ties with dad’s car keys. I was up on his shoulders just cutting away and yanking at these cable ties.”

Shaw joked that despite a few suspicious looks from roadside stewards, he still managed to sneak the sign home.

“Of course the race had gone through at that point and this was on the way home. I don’t know why I tried to hide this massive yellow sign as it wasn’t the sort of thing that was easy to hide,” he explained. “I remember being a bit nervous and trying to hide it behind me, it probably looked really dodgy.” 

James Shaw

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the years progressed and Shaw turned professional, the now 27-year-old hit a few brick walls on the way to his debut in the French Grand Tour. 

After being dropped by Lotto in 2018, Shaw spent several years on the UK domestic scene with continental outfits including Swift Carbon Pro Cycling and Ribble Weldtite before returning to the WorldTour at the start of the 2022 season with EF. 

Shaw told CW that he was fortunate to have a close inner circle of family and friends that kept him motivated during several difficult periods. 

“I think a lot of the time it was the other people around me that kept me going,” he said. “There were times when I’d written myself off… but other people around me were like ‘no, you can’t stop, you’re too young to stop, you’ve got to keep going’ and helped me push on and continue really.”

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