High life has Shaw primed to pounce for An Post
Damien Shaw has been living the high life in preparation for the An Post Rás. The Mullingar man has a head for heights from his years spent cleaning out chimneys as a fireman, but this year it's another sign of the progress he's made as a full-time cyclist.
Some of the An Post-Chain Reaction outfit decamped to the ski resort of Font Romeu near the France/Spain border this week for a final block of training at altitude. Sleeping at 1,900m; training at 1,200m. A far cry from putting in the miles on a turbo while on call from the fire station.
"Although An Post is technically a continental level team (third tier), there's access to World Tour facilities through the contacts that they have. We are very lucky to take advantage of them," says Shaw.
The senior man on the team has hit some high notes already this season, winning his first race as a pro at the Tour du Loir et Cher last month in France. It was his first event of the year with An Post after injury derailed his early-season. For a man who's idea of relaxing involves cutting lawns on his John Deere ride-on mower, he was never going to let the grass grow under his feet. The results are important milestones in the 2015 national champion's journey.
"When I was in Ireland I was delighted to be winning the bigger domestic races and every year you get asked, 'What's you're biggest achievement'," says the 32-year-old. "A few years ago I would have said the Rás Mumhan and I suppose it's a mark of progress that in the space of a few years I've gone from slogging around the roads of Kerry to leading international races."
The recent success was built on the lessons learned last year, his first with An Post. Shaw's ability to adapt quickly has been crucial for a man who only started racing at 26.
"It's probably my biggest skill," he says. "Last year it was just so f***ing new and, like, I wasn't the guy who was racing when I was growing up. Through the first couple of years the only tactics I knew were Irish tactics, get up the f***ing road, the strongest man will last the longest. Last year, you could see there's a lot more to it than that, the rhythm to the racing is different, yeah I just feel like I'm a bit clued it."
The stage win was reward for the hard work and sacrifice. Turning full-time forced him to step away from a permanent job and cost him his relationship with his Spanish girlfriend, who had moved to Mullingar. All these factors help concentrate the mind on an opportunity that came to him late in his sporting life.
"It kinda makes me a bit more eager to take advantage of the time that I have here," he says.
Even his father, a man wedded to the fire service for 28 years and not delighted about his son's switch to a profession he knows nothing about, has started to come around.
"He still doesn't have a clue, not a notion," he smiles. "He just sees that I'm in the papers, and he says, 'Ah maybe you're not wasting my time now'."
On Sunday, the senior man of the An Post team - by eight years - will line up alongside Matthew Teggart, Sean McKenna, Pole Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz and New Zealander Regan Gough before the peloton rolls out from Dublin Castle. With An Post yesterday announcing they are to end their long-association with the Seán Kelly-backed team and the Rás itself, pressure for results is on.
Shaw finished fifth overall last year but a stage win remains elusive and with 39 teams of five, he knows every day will be unpredictable.
"In the last few years, it seems the f***ing leader's jersey is cursed," he says. "Being around the bunch you see crashes every day. You think, 'That could be me'. It seems like the leader has crashed every year, in recent years. I'd be hopefully in the background, ready to pounce. The basics of every stage race is to try and get on the podium somehow, once I can do that I'd be happy. And obviously the higher the classification the better."
Aiming to climb higher comes naturally.