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Damien Shaw Wins Best Domestic Rider Award

posted 22 Nov 2015, 14:31 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 30 Nov 2015, 01:38 ]
(By Shay O'Toole)   
Local athlete Damien Shaw’s rise through the ranks of amateur cycle racing took another giant leap forward last week when he won the Cycling Ireland award for the best domestic based rider.

Shaw who rides with Team ASEA Racing, a team, which he himself helped to build, had an outstanding year in 2015 and was a very popular and worthy winner of this annual award. A part-time fireman with Westmeath Co. Council, he claimed podium positions in many of Ireland’s toughest races last season and was active from the very early stages when he won the Cycleways Cup in Navan. This is one of the top early season races and was fraught with danger as it was staged in what can only be described as arctic conditions. Not deterred by the snow blizzard, Shaw took flight from the main bunch with a whopping 50km to go and totally blitzed the field to come home on his own. This set the tone for the year as he went on to win the Tour of Ards in Northern Ireland a fortnight later as well as the 140km Deenside Cup in Kilkenny. 

However, his 2015 season will be most remembered for stellar performances in the An Post Rás and the National Road Race Championships. The former is Ireland’s premier stage race which takes place in May each year. In preparation for this blue riband event, 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. In a high speed sprint for the line, a rider fell in front of Shaw leaving him no option but to swerve and use the crash barriers as a landing pad, resulting in some severe bruising to his neck. With the An Post Ras, one of the season’s main goals only weeks away, and in a bid to regain some of the form lost through this injury, the 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 and tossed into the air, landing very heavily on his shoulder, not exactly the Ras warm-up he had wanted. 
Notwithstanding these two dangerous incidents, he entered the An Post Ras and suffered for five solid days in the wind and rain around the West coast of Ireland. Then, the “beast” came alive and over the next three days he was 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, in what can only be described as inspirational riding. The Ras had never before seen performances like this from a domestic based rider which were all the more telling, considering the modern day Rás peloton consists mostly of professional cyclists.

Damien on the winners rostrum with Eddie Dunbar NFTO (2nd) and Conor Dunne An Post Chainreaction (3rd)
Damien on the winners podium with Eddie Dunbar NFTO (2nd) and Conor Dunne An Post Chainreaction (3rd)

It was still only May, but June, the month of the National Road Race Championships was 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. With most of Ireland’s top European based professionals including, Team Sky rider Philip Deignan and An Post Chainreaction’s 2014 winner, Ryan Mullen back home for Irish cycling’s main event, the chances of the former Lakeside Wheelers man getting a result were extremely slim. After the usual wearing down process that this race is renowned for, Shaw and five of his ASEA team mates were 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, Shaw put in one huge effort to which nobody could respond, 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 shouting the “amateur” on 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. The Irish track team were flying out to begin training for the 2016 Olympics and not surprisingly, Shaw was called up to the squad. Within the week, he was bound for the velodrome in Mallorca. It was here he was to complete his year of “bad” luck as once again, he was sideswiped by a pedestrian who ran out from behind a parked van as the team were on a training spin near Palma, resulting in another fractured collar bone.

That was the year that was, in the life of Ireland’s best amateur racing cyclist. Currently, Damien Shaw is enjoying a well-deserved period of rest and recovery following surgery in recent days to repair the damage which the 2015 season threw at him. Maybe now, it is easy to appreciate why his peers and competitors last week voted him the Best Domestic Based Rider for 2015. We wish him well in his recuperation and hope that 2016 and beyond will be just as successful, but not as painful.

Damien turns the screw on his way to winning the National Championships in Omagh.