Talkingshop: British Women’s RR Champion Sharon Laws

VeloUK talks to British Women’s Road Race Champion Sharon Laws about her season and her goals for 2013

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Our thanks to Sharon Laws for answering our questions by email from her base in South Africa where she is enjoying warmer and drying training weather! During the year, Sharon was in the form of her life but was not selected for the Olympics due to the decision of one selector within the GB Cycling team.

Sharon, one of the nicest people you could possibly meet and one of the worlds top riders, is held in high esteem by her peers as you will see. Like this from Lizzie Armitstead about Sharon signing for Lotto: “I’m really pleased for Sharon (Laws) that she is with a team like Lotto. I think she will get opportunities there and I see her producing similar results to what Emma did as she was always her domestique.”

Sharon Laws (centre) in her champions jersey with Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead

Question and Answers with Sharon Laws

VeloUK: For 2013, with the champion’s jersey on your back, you have signed for Lotto. In a press release they say they wanted to make the team stronger around you and others? How does that feel as a rider to have that respect?
Sharon Laws: I have always ridden on teams with big rosters and with Olympic and World Champions. I wanted to do something a bit different for 2013 and riding with Lotto Bellisol is the perfect opportunity to combine riding for a smaller team but one that is still well recognised in Europe. I think it is the team that has shown the greatest stability over a number of years. I was approached by them, jointly with Momentum Toyota, early – in the middle of the year – and so to be a priority to both teams makes me feel particularly valued and immediately boosts my confidence and enthusiasm to ride next year.

VeloUK: Looking back at 2012, what were the highlights for you?
Sharon Laws: I had a run of success in May and June and that period was a highlight for me; 3rd overall at Gracia Orlova, 2nd at Goik-Geraardsbergen-Goik, 1st in a Dutch criterium, 3rd in the Valkenburg Hills Classic, 4th overall at Bira, 2nd in a stage at Trentino and then the win at the National Championships. My form was good and my performances improved with the confidence that being on the podium provides. I was on a real high up until the Olympic selection.

Becoming National Champion was of course the biggest highlight of the year. It was something I never thought I would achieve and was a big surprise. Now I have it, it means so much more than I expected. The Worlds Team Time Trial bronze medal was another highlight. I was a late call up to the team and was extremely nervous as I hadn’t had the chance to practice with the team as I only arrived the day before! Being an integral part of the team to achieve that podium place and finishing off a great year with AA drinks was a very special feeling.

My last month in South Africa has been a real highlight – winning the 94.7 which is the World’s second largest timed event was incredible. There was so much media attention, TV interviews and people recognising me. This was followed by a win at a 200km team event which I did with 10 other girls – a lot of fun and a win this weekend at a race in my new home town in Stellensbosch. Sport is so huge in South Africa and the number of people that take part in the races is just outstanding and so when you win in front of so many people, it’s such a great feeling!

Sharon on her way to the British title in North Yorkshire.

VeloUK: … and the disappointments?
Sharon Laws: Not being selected for the Olympics was obviously the biggest low of my season. I really believed I raised my level this year and deserved the place. My results helped to qualify the 4th spot and I was the 4th ranked UCI British rider. I wish I’d been a swimmer or a runner and then the selection would have been based on taking the strongest athlete. Unfortunately, so many riders in the peloton believed, and said to me, that I must be selected that I also began thinking I had a real chance – so the blow of not making the team was even worse. I remember waking up the following morning, after I had the information, and the reality hit that my Olympic dreams were over. I just had such a sick, empty feeling in my stomach.

I could have accepted the decision in the previous years when my results hadn’t been particularly outstanding but to put all the hard work, get the results and then not be selected was just devastating. The Road World’s was a big disappointment for me too. I was in good shape but I think I lost my head in the race. I saw my confidence fall away with a small comment someone made before the start and it’s not the kind of race you can go into and do well unless you are 100% focused. It’s the first World Championships I’ve finished feeling that I wasn’t able to give of my best and I think that is worse than feeling you’ve given your best and coming last.

VeloUK: How did such a huge disappointment such as the Olympics affect your moral for the rest of the season?
Sharon Laws: It was hard not to hit a low. I took a break when the Olympics was on and headed to the mountains with a tent and no internet or mobile phone reception and then spent a few days at a friend’s house with numerous children and that helped put things in perspective.

I had many conversations and messages from riders and others highlighting their surprise at the decision and sympathising with it. This coming from top riders such as Marianne Vos, Ina Teutenburg and Judith Ardnt to name a few, helped me feel slightly better about the situation.

The situation also affected my enthusiasm to ride as I had no real, clear goal anymore. Fortunately, my new contract with Momentum Toyota (South Africa) and Lotto Bellisol (Europe) and a new focus for next year has renewed my motivation. This has additionally been helped by some wins here in South Africa which has definitely boosted my confidence.

VeloUK: What have you learnt in 2012 that you feel you can take forward to 2013 to help you be even more successful.
Sharon Laws: I worked with a new coach from South Africa, Ian Rodgers, in 2012 and his approach really works for me. I’ve done a lot of higher intensity work, sprint training and tapering before races. Hopefully continuing with the same kind of training will help me improve further next year.

A delighted Sharon Laws wins the British RR Championship for women.

VeloUK: There has been a lot of talk about in-equality between male pros and women pros. Is a rider as highly ranked in the world as you and British champion no less, able to make a living as a professional or is it a struggle?
Sharon Laws: Unfortunately, I don’t receive any funding or support from British cycling so I only get the salary paid to me by the team. Each year to date, I have undertaken a block of consultancy work in the ‘off season’ to supplement my income.

This isn’t ideal in terms of being able to rest effectively or spend time with friends or family, when you are finally not travelling to races, but is necessary. Being older makes a bit of a difference as I don’t want to live like a student again as I did that many years ago and it’s also not feasible to live with family when you are 38! I took around a 50% salary cut when I gave up my career (which wasn’t particularly highly paid either!) to became a cyclist. I do however know that I am still one of the fortunate ones – many of the girls in the peloton receive very little or no salary at all.

VeloUK: Have you met with the team for 2013 and will it be strange to be the only Brit in the team (that I am aware of) after years of being with Emma and Lizzie?
Sharon Laws: No, we haven’t all met yet but hope to early in 2013. I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent riding with Emma and Lizzie and so will miss them. I’ve learnt so much from both of them in different respects and it will be very strange not being on the same team.

VeloUK: You mention you have a busy winter getting in the kilometres. Describe a typical week for you, how kilometres and hours would you do and is it just easy or is there some intensity in there and what are you preparing for first in 2013?
Sharon Laws: I haven’t yet had a typical week as I’ve been doing some local races while I’ve been here so I’ve been doing more intensity than normal for this time of year. After a short break, I will start with some base training and move into intensity work in January. Again, I won’t really have a typical week (purposely) until I move into more structured training in January. I have a few excursions planned around the riding firstly to the Cederberg mountains with my Cape Epic partner and then from Boxing Day, I will be riding from Stellenbosch to Knysna with Ashleigh Moolman and others. It’s about 700-800km over 6 days which I’m really looking forward to.

VeloUK: You are spending the winter in South Africa. Is that where you will remain for your winter training? Do you train alone there or are there others who join you to make those long hours more sociable on the bike and what’s the terrain like
Sharon Laws: I will be in South Africa for 5 months and only return to Europe after doing the ABSA Cape Epic mountain bike race at the end of March. So far, I’ve been doing specific training for the recent races which means training alone but I hope to mainly be riding with other people once I start again after a short break.

The area around here is generally rolling but there are some nice climbs, beautiful mountains to gaze at and vineyards everywhere! The roads aren’t as quiet as they are in Spain and the drivers less conscientious but the weather is of course better at this time of year.

Sharon in winning form recently in the Momentum  94.7 Challenge for Women

VeloUK: We’ve seen the likes of Bradley Wiggins and other Sky riders take losing weight to extreme levels to be the best they can, do you think that is something that those in the women’s side are taking on board. You looked very lean this year!!!
Sharon Laws: I think it varies among individuals – with women there are always issues around weight particularly when sport is involved. There are some riders who have taken it to extreme levels but I know that it isn’t good for you in the long term and I like food too much! I generally eat a healthy, balanced diet that is as natural and unprocessed as possible but only because these are the foods I prefer. I could definitely be leaner but life is a bit short and dark chocolate and Emma’s chocolate brownies taste too good!

VeloUK: You were born in Kenya, like another famous cyclist and have lived in different countries. So where in the world is home to you?
Sharon Laws: That is always a difficult question! I’ve lived in Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, Spain and the UK – I travelled a lot in my previous career and so generally home is where my bag is. I love living in Girona, Spain and do feel at home there but South Africa is also a very special place and its wonderful coming back to old friends.

I grew up in the UK in the Cotswolds. It’s a very beautiful part of England and is where my Mum lives so I do feel like it is home as well …. it’s just the weather in the UK that I can’t live with! Sometimes I love my nomadic lifestyle but other times I crave just having a proper home with all my friends and family around me – I don’t think I will ever achieve this as now I’ve met so many lovely people on my travels and they are scattered all over the world. Thank goodness for skype.

VeloUK: Finally, you won a major race recently wearing the champions jersey — how has it felt wearing the champions stripes since June? Are you very conscious of them when racing for example.
Sharon Laws: It’s wonderful! It has been fantastic winning in the stripes and I think it means a lot more to people in South Africa when they see I am a National Champion …. I definitely get a lot more recognition. In the Giro, it was great as all the National champions line up on the start line at the front which was a real honour. I think wearing the National stripes increases your confidence when you race as you know that win was a real achievement.

My thanks to Sharon for that wonderful interview and wish her all the best in 2013…



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