James Shaw's grand tour dream

For the Brit, finishing the Vuelta in Madrid will be a dream come true

September 9, 2022

James Shaw always believed he could be a grand tour racer

At times, he wondered if he would ever get his shot. Now, he is into the third week of the Vuelta a España and has just a few more chances to go for stage wins before the Tour of Spain arrives in Madrid. It has been a long journey for the Brit. The Spanish grand tour is the latest chapter in a story of dedication and hard work. James didn’t take the easy road to the pros.

“I always wanted to be here,” James says. “Would I have thought that I would be? Some days yes, and some days no. I’ve been in and out of professional ranks. I had a rough start to my career. A lot of times, it was not easy. There were two times when I thought I would go into retirement. But people around me said to keep going.”

James has always raced on his own terms. He didn’t fit into the British cycling system. Riding endless laps on indoor tracks never appealed to his imagination. A velodrome in Manchester is basically the same as one in Rio, Tokyo, or Paris. James loved open roads—and cyclocross—so he started heading to Belgium to prove himself in bike racing’s toughest minor leagues.

"I always wanted to be here."

- James Shaw

As a teenager, he spent all the money he’d saved from work to get to races across the English Channel. He got better and better. One week, it all came together, and he won six small-town races in a row on the Belgian circuit. That got him a spot on a Belgian development team, which gave him a bike and kit and told him that if he won races he’d go to the World Tour. James won. His first years as a pro were a struggle though. He was a Brit on a very Belgian team and never quite found his place. At the end of his first two-year contract, he was told that there was no longer a spot for him in the team.

James felt like he was only just getting started, but all of a sudden was staring straight into the end of his time as a cyclist. That winter, he hardly touched his bike. Early in the spring, he got an offer from a small Continental programme. It would give him the chance to race, but little income or support. Most former World Tour pros would have turned it down and quit. James was not too proud though. He still dreamed of riding grand tours.

“I said to myself after getting dropped from the World Tour, ‘No; I want to finish my way’,” he says. “And it was one of the things that kept me going. I wanted to ride a grand tour.”

If a year in the minors was his last shot, James was going to give it everything he had got. That year, he got fifth on GC at the Tour of Yorkshire. That earned him a spot on a Danish professional team for the next season. However, the team ran into financial troubles during the Covid pandemic, which meant that James hardly had the chance to race. He had to drop back to the Continental level the next year and race for a British outfit. His grand tour dream was getting further and further away. But James didn’t give up.

"If a door opens for me, I will take the opportunity."

- James Shaw

In 2021, he rode to fifth on GC at the Tour of Slovenia and fifth on GC at the Tour of Norway. Jonathan Vaughters called him and offered him a spot on EF Education-EasyPost. Of course, James said yes. This summer, he finished sixth at the Tour of Wallonie and has done crucial work for the team in countless races this season.

“It’s so good, being on this team,” James says. “I have a two-year deal and in the past three or four years at this time of the year I’ve already had to think about what’s next, what’s going to happen to me. It was stressful. Now, to know that next year is sorted, I don’t have to stress about my future and can focus on improving. I am here to help the team. If I have to rub elbows, I will.”

James has already broken away twice during the Vuelta. On stage 12, his efforts paid off with a 9th-place finish at the summit of the Peñas Blanca. James isn’t done. He still has a few days to try to make a break stick before the Vuelta arrives in Madrid.

“If a door opens for me, I will take the opportunity,” he says.

James Shaw will keep going right to the finish in Madrid. It will be a dream come true to finish his first Vuelta, one that’s been more than a decade in the making. James is proving what he’s always believed; he is a grand tour racer.

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