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Damien Shaw Decides to Hang Up His Racing Wheels

posted 18 Feb 2020, 03:24 by Site Admin   [ updated 18 Mar 2020, 16:02 ]
After a lot of soul searching and having given great consideration to his future, local cyclist Damien Shaw has decided in recent weeks to call time on his professional cycling career.

The Mullingar rider is now 35 years of age and has come to the decision that racing at the top level is no longer feasible. Although he is still doing some cycling for fun, the former Irish National Champion has stated that he is not interested in “devoting the time needed to train to race if I cannot influence and win some of those races.”

Damien joined Lakeside Wheelers in 2009 and his rise through the ranks of amateur and professional cycling has been chronicled in these pages on numerous occasions. In his early days he gained a reputation as a powerful rider with excellent race craft which soon brought him to the attention of the elite coaches at Cycling Ireland. Following physiological testing Damien was drafted into the Paralympics’ squad as a pilot rider and competed in several world championship events as well as the London Paralympics in 2012 where he and his tandem partner won a silver medal.

Following his experience with the paracycling team the one-time Westmeath Co. Council fireman focused his attention on road racing for the 2013 season, leaving Lakeside Wheelers to join the top flight Aqua Blue racing team. It was with this outfit that Damien won the much coveted Kerry Group Ras Mumhan, a 4-day international stage race held every Easter in Kerry. This victory really put him in the shop window and so with another change to Team Asea in 2014, he pushed on and won all of Ireland’s main one day races including the famous Shay Elliott. With his palmares getting more impressive by the week, Damien added the Victus Tour of Ulster before the 2014 season ended.

Going into the off period and already planning for the 2015 season there were two main objectives for Shaw, to win a stage of the An Post Ras and the Irish National Cycling Championships which were to be staged in Omagh. He had competed in both of these events in previous years with varying degrees of success, including a fantastic 3rd place finish in the 2013 Nationals in Carlingford, Co. Louth.

In preparation for the 2015 Ras Shaw went to Tipperary to race the “Visit Nenagh” Classic, a race he won in 2014. However, the 2015 race proved to be a different story and resulted in a high speed crash in the finishing straight leaving Shaw with a nasty neck injury. With the An Post Ras, one of his season’s main goals only weeks away, and in a bid to regain some of the form lost through the injury sustained in Nenagh, the Team ASEA man went back across the border to compete in Northern Ireland’s main stage race, the Tour of Ulster, where yet again, he was the reigning champion. Unfortunately, disaster struck once more as he was hit from behind by a race vehicle leaving him with severe bruising to his shoulder.  

Notwithstanding these two incidents, Shaw and Team Asea, a team he helped to build, entered the An Post Ras and he suffered for the first five days in the wind and rain as the race made its way around the West coast of Ireland. Then, over the next three days his cycling career took an amazing turn as he claimed second in the 160km stage from Ballina to Ballinamore, second again in the 145km stage from Ballinamore to Drogheda and third on the final day which saw the riders race 135km from Drogheda to Skerries. The Ras had never before seen performances like this from a domestic based rider which were all the more telling, considering the Ras peloton at that time consisted mostly of professional cyclists. The prized stage win eluded him, but there is no doubt that he left his mark on this famous race.

It was still only May but the National Road Race Championships were just around the corner. With barely weeks to go to the biggest one day race of the year, Damien had very limited time to allow his injured shoulder and neck to recover. Following this period of rest he only managed a couple of training spins before heading north to Omagh. The start list contained most of Ireland’s top European based professionals including Team Sky rider Philip Deignan and the 2014 champion, Ryan Mullen (An Post Chainreaction). The chances of the former Lakeside Wheelers man getting a result against this level of competition appeared to be extremely slim.

However, after the usual wearing down process that this race is renowned for, Shaw found himself and five of his ASEA team mates well placed in the breakaway. As the race progressed, the shoulder pain was numbed by the sight of the pros suffering and with 5KM to go, he put in one huge effort to which nobody could respond and all of a sudden, the fairy-tale finish was on the cards. Rounding the last bend into the finishing straight in Omagh town centre, the crowds were six and seven deep cheering the Mullingar man to glory. An unbelievable result, but it was also one of Shaw’s main goals for the entire year, making it all the sweeter.

After the celebrations had concluded it was inevitable that the new National Champion would be in demand and it wasn’t long before the professional teams were calling. As 2015 drew to a close, Damien Shaw signed a contract with the Belgium based An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly Team.

For the next three years he traversed Europe and beyond racing in the pro peloton with yet again, varying degrees of success. In 2016 he was selected to ride with the Irish team at the European Cycling Championships in Brittany, France. The outstanding result of his professional career was a stage win in the 2017 Tour du Loir et Cher and subsequently holding the Yellow jersey in that race for three days, going on to take 6th  place overall. There were also numerous appearances in races where he competed against World Tour riders such as the OVO Tour of Britain.  The lowest point was getting selected for the Irish team to ride the 2017 World Road Racing Championships in Norway, but due to injury he was forced to step down. In 2018 the An Post Chainreaction team folded but once again Shaw was in demand and was soon snapped up by the UK based Holdsworth Racing team. However, due to logistics and team schedules he did not compete with Holdsworth as much as he would have liked. In 2019 Damien raced domestically with the Strata 3 Velo Revolution team but it was during this period that thoughts of retirement set in.

Other notable performances were; National Criterium Championships 2nd place (2011, 2018), Cycling Ireland Best Domestic Rider (2015), An Post Ras Overall 5th (2016) 5th (2017), 4th (2018), OVO Tour of Britain (2016, 2017)

Damien, who was bestowed with Honorary membership of Lakeside Wheelers in 2016 is enjoying a bit more freedom after stepping away from the discipline of professional sport and is concentrating on a new career path. Reading the social media comments in response to his announcement this week, one is left in no doubt that he was extremely well regarded by competitors, race officials and media personnel alike. And so, everybody at Lakeside Wheelers would like to take this opportunity to join these well-wishers from the greater Irish cycling community and send best wishes and thanks, to a great sportsman who put Mullingar on the international cycling map. It will be a long time before we see his likes again.

Damian Shaw National Champion winner 2015 on the winners rostrum with Eddie Dunbar NFTO (2nd) and Conor Dunne An Post Chainreaction (3rd)

Damian Shaw competing in the Kermesse race in Belgium in his National Champions Kit

Damian Shaw on the front of the peloton in the 2016 Etoile de Besseges race