Age no barrier as Damien Shaw realises burning ambition

Wandering around the lobby of the Diamante Beach Hotel in Calpe, Spain, on a gun-metal grey afternoon in January are a host of the world’s best cyclists and teams.

Age no barrier as Damien Shaw realises burning ambition

There’s 34–time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish and four-time world time-trial champion Tony Martin and a number of other rail-thin riders, posing for pictures, Skyping girlfriends and wives and performing media duties.

An Post Chain Reaction rider Damien Shaw is here too, along with around a dozen teammates on their first official training camp of the year.

At 32, he’s very much the grandfather of the group but given he’s only cycling six years, he’s still playing catch-up on many of those he’s sharing the roads with this week.

Before Christmas, he quit his job as a fireman in Mullingar so as to cycle full-time, a decision he hopes can bring about the best year of his life.

“I’m stepping up or stepping out,” is how he describes the decision. “I packed in the job last year because you can’t do both. I’ll find a job somewhere afterwards, it is as simple as that.”

While he may have been physically strong enough to hold his own in 2016, mentally he was a beaten docket by the end of the season.

“It didn’t really work out for me. There were times when I rode well but didn’t have much to show for it.

“Some of the typical races you start at 55kph to get into the break, then it slows down to 30kph and it ramps right up again to 55kph for the last hour. If you’re not in the break you’re not doing anything and if you’re not trying to lead out your sprinter at the finish you’re not up to much either,” he reasoned.

“I think I was fit but inexperienced last year and I’d be hoping I picked up a few things about what to do for this year. I was maybe a little bit intimidated in the bunch. I suppose you see bigger, fancier setups and the big names of guys who obviously know their way around. I was allowing them do what they wanted instead of forcing my will and that has to change.”

Team manager Kurt Bogaerts believes Shaw can step up a level in 2017. “He knew what international racing was at the end of the year. It was very crucial he wanted to do big races like the Tour of Britain in September to know what he needed to do training-wise and diet-wise. He knows now, he’s a clever guy and he wouldn’t accept a challenge for this year unless he was 100% motivated. You see his figure and his fitness and I think he got the message.”

Shaw is one of four Irish riders in the team for the year, with Matt Teggart, Dubliner Sean McKenna and former Waterford underage hurler Conor Hennebry also there.

For Teggart, it’s been an ambition to ride as a pro ever since he went to the Tour de France as a four-year-old.

“This is definitely all I want to do,” the 21-year old Banbridge man said. “Ever since I was old enough to remember, I always wanted to be a professional cyclist. It’s what my family do, it’s our sport. Going on holidays to watch the Tour de France was something we did nearly every year. I’d say I’ve seen at least 50 stages of it by now, five or six times on Alpe d’Huez anyway. One distinct memory I have is the year Armstrong won the time-trial (2004), I remember it because I was under the barrier with heat stroke trying to watch the race!

“As an Irishman, where else do you wanna go to start off your career?” he added.

The An Post Chain Reaction team kick off their season at the one-day GP Marseillaise in France on January 29.

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