Interview: James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite)

After a stunning performance in Slovenia with three top six rides against the world’s best, James Shaw is on his way home – we had a chat about his race in the Tour of Slovenia

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Interview: James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite)

I can’t speak for everybody but all those I know who were watching the results come in from the Tour of Slovenia, or better still, watching the racing itself, were mightily impressed with the performance of James Shaw.

James crosses the line after a summit finish showing that he truly is up to racing with the worlds best. Photo: James Huntly

It isn’t easy for a rider to lose their place in the WorldTour and then fight their way back but for sure, the ride by James in Slovenia was truly top draw. The ‘names’ that he was surrounded by makes his performance outstanding.

Household names for those who watch pro racing abroad such as Diego Ulissi (ranked 40 in the world), Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (3 in the world), climber Rafal Majka (168 in the world) and Matej Mohoric (123 in the world) who packs a real punch on the road. These are riders who race for World Tour teams (UAE) and James was right in there with them and riders from other World Tour teams such as Astana, Bahrain Victorious and BikeExchange.

For me, to see James get sixth on one stage was brilliant. To then back that up with a second sixth place and then a fifth (all on big mountain stages) was the truly amazing factor in his riding. So it was a quite a thrill to talk to James as he was in the team car as they headed home. He started by saying “the person that is surprised the most by it is me. I have never struggled racing up hills but to ride with the best GC climbers in the world, I didn’t expect that.”

Ribble Weldtite found themselves against a mix of Conti, Pro conti and WorldTour teams. Photo: James Huntly

“There were times on the climb when I’d lose the wheel and I’d be able to ride my way back into contention over the course of the climb, and I’m over the moon about it. Really pleased. As a team, we only missed the top 10 on one day (day 1) as I had two sixth placings and a fifth and Matt Gibson was 7th on the final stage. That was more than we expected as a team”.

Another achievement for James was he achieved his results off the back of very little racing? “That is a surprising factor” he replied. “As you know, I have a great coach in Chris McNamara and the guys at trainSharp so we have been working hard but you can’t replicate that top end racing which put us (riders) on the back foot a little bit”.

Asked about his team and the help they gave him, James explained “Matt (Gibson) was my saving grace, he was riding well above his climbing capabilities and he did a cracking turn for me on the climbs and then had a cracking sprint on the Sunday. I’d also like him to get something (World Tour/Pro Conti) out of this season because he’s another rider who’s riding below his potential level in Conti races.”

“The lads really helped me out and really committed to the race. Charles and Matt gave the sprint a bashing on the first day, Dan was there to help everyone out and generally, because we’re not here for the money or the big ‘I Am’, we’re here for the bike racing so we seemed to gel really well and that worked great.”

James on his solo time trial during a stage of the race in Estonia. Photo: James Huntly

Before Slovenia, James and the team rode a completely different race in Estonia where on one stage, James was out riding the chasers on a big solo mission and so many of us were hopeful he’d stay away. That didn’t happen but it was another stunning ride. “That was training for this (Slovenia)! I was getting frustrated with how the group would not work together and I thought, ‘you know what, actually, I am better off up the road on my own than being in this group fannying around. So when I got the opportunity, I was off. I really wanted to race as hard as I could that weekend and get as much as I could leading into this race and I feel I did that. We have started to show the rest of the UK conti teams and above that we mean serious business as well as being the underdog and fun team that we are.”

One issue that conti teams have when racing high level races like Slovenia (UCI pro level) is that we may not see it on TV but the other teams can be less than respectful to them and make life very difficult.

“We definitely had that issue” says James. “The guys at BikeExchange gave us the respect that I felt we deserved, and respected out efforts but there were a lot of teams there that were a bit annoyed they were being beaten by a continental team and were trying to bully us out of it but we weren’t going to sit there and take that. We stuck it into them and gave it back and fought our corner. It is always the case at this level that the jersey on the back can allow you a degree of room. Luckily Matt and I have ridden at this level so we know how to turn it around and give it back”.

One thing that hopefully the results that James and Matt were able to provide for the team will give them more opportunities in races where the race organisers are looking for teams who can fight for the victories in their race. Which, for the likes of James and Matt, is just what they want, more racing opportunities with the big teams to get a place at the highest level for 2022 and beyond.

Matt Gibson, who rode above himself to help James and the team and was seventh on the final stage. Photo: James Huntly

“100 per cent, I hope so” says James. “It doesn’t help that races are hard to come by so when the race organisers sit down and have 80 teams and only 20 places, that if we are at the top of the continental pecking order, they will look at us and know that we want to race, and are in the race for the big results. The team backs that up with great social media campaigns which is what a lot of organisers are looking for and it is one of Ribble’s strong points as a managerial team.”

After the big time in Slovenia, it’s time to put the feet back on the ground and next weekend, Dan Bigham, James and Simon Wilson will do the national team time trial championships. “We’re in a situation of waiting for race organisers to get back to us on other events” James explained. “I know we’re going to be busy at the back of the year so I’ll kick back a little bit and look back at what we achieved this week and enjoy that”.

“The next big aim is the Tour of Britain but it would be good to have some more races to get results in as well. As well as riding for myself, I do want to give back to the likes of Matt because he deserves a contract and that is the same for all the lads. I also want to get some results in the hope that it puts some more funds back into the team for the future and attracts potential sponsors that can help the lads go further in the sport.”

Finally, the big news for fans of James, and there are a lot based on the likes and comments on social media, he is going to be at Otley at the end of the month and the big cycling party there. Looking forward to that so much! Thank you James for the chat …

Dan Bigham get in the mix in a breakaway in Slovenia. Photo: James Huntly


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