By David Healy
TBCF spoke with the 2015 Irish national champion Damian Shaw (32) this week at the An Post Chain Reaction Cycles training camp in a cold and snowy Calpe, Spain.
We asked Damian about his first season with the team and he confirmed that it had been “a massive step up from racing at home in Ireland”.
“I wasn’t used to the constant fight for position that’s part of continental racing,” said Shaw who only came to the sport at the relatively late age of 26 and as Directeur Sportif Kurt Bogaerts has told him it doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you’re spending too much time in the wind, you’re wasting you’re time.
One of the highlights of his 2016 season was riding the Tour of Britain, against the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Dan Martin and Tom Dumoulin, and he described the experience as being “a very steep learning curve.”
An Post and Bogaerts are gaining a reputation as one of the world’s best development teams and have seen riders including Sam Bennett and Ryan Mullen make it to the World Tour level. In fact, Shaw had spoken with Mullen (who finished in 5th place in the World Elite TT Championships in 2016), before joining the team and said that “Ryan couldn’t speak highly enough of the team,” which says a huge amount about the organisational abilities and enthusiasm of Bogaerts.
You need real determination to attempt continental racing and Bogaerts has a great appreciation for the Irish riders who make the effort to go abroad. Riders are often aware of the faster racing but they don’t always appreciate that there are often cultural and linguistic difficulties as well. For many it is there first time to live outside Ireland so loneliness can also be a factor and this is something that Bogaerts recognises.
“Damien is a very exceptional and strong rider,” said Bogaerts who feels the Mullingar man can only get better.
“His next oldest teammate is only 23,” said Bogaerts. “However, he is less experienced in racing terms than many of them and therefore still has much room for improvement.”
Until recently Shaw was a fireman in his hometown of Mullingar but he recently gave up the secure job to continue to pursue the dream. Bogaerts considers that with the benefit of the experience from the season just gone Shaw now knows what needs to be done. As an example of the progress that Shaw made, Bogaerts mentioned how strongly Shaw rode in support of his team mates at the European Championships at the end of the season. According to Bogaerts “Damien doesn’t want to waste his time this year”.
Coming into this season Shaw said that after taking some time off at the of the 2016 season he is surprised at how well he is already going. The team has a very interesting line up for 2017, perhaps their strongest ever, including the 2014 World Junior champion German Jonas Bokeloh and 8 different nationalities in total. Shaw says that there is a “great atmosphere in the team” but that “this year is a make or break year” for him.
An Post start their racing year on 29 January at the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise and TBCF will be following Damian and the team’s progress throughout the year with great interest.