Cyclist Gaby Shaw waiting to get back in saddle to pursue Tour de Yorkshire ambitions

Slumped on a chair under the canope of the Brother Tifosi team bus, Gaby Shaw looked like she had just been on a journey to hell and back.

Professional hopes: Gabriella Shaw during the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire from Bridlington to Scarborough.

Covered in mud from head to foot, her hair drenched and the impressions of a cycling helmet indented in her forehead, the 26-year-old from Leeds looked at once both exhausted and exhilarated.

For this was no journey to hell and back, but a more picturesque jaunt from Barnsley to Bedale on day one of the Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race of 2019.

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It was still brutal, mind – 132 kilometres of pain – hence Shaw’s demeanour.

Leeds cyclist Gabriella Shaw on stage in Millennium Square ahead of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“Give me two minutes,” she panted, when asked by this intrusive reporter for a few thoughts on the day’s racing.

Shaw had survived stage one and was taking stock, letting her muscles recover and her mind relive the experience.

And what an experience, racing in the same peloton as former world champions Lizzie Deignan and Marianne Vos past her home in Bramhope, Leeds, and within touching distance of the school she attended, Prince Henry’s Grammar, in Otley.

All in front of those famously enthusiastic and welcoming Yorkshire cycling crowds.

Gabriella Shaw, right, finished third in the 2019 National Crit Championships (Picture: SWPix.com)

“It was as hard as expected. We held our own and stood our ground,” was about all Shaw could muster in the moments afterwards.

Twenty-four hours later, it got even worse for the semi-professional Shaw as hailstones pelted them on the ride from Bridlington to Scarborough.

“The weather played a massive part of the race,” reflected Shaw, nearly a year removed from the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire.

“The wind, the temperature, the hail, we had everything, which made for a really challenging race.

“That first stage I finished in the bunch, I was happy to have done my bit for the team.

“The second day was just brutal. It was about surviving.”

Survive she did. In 2020, she is hoping to thrive, with her team (now CAMS-Tifosi due to sponsorship) stepping up to UCI level.

The coronavirus pandemic which has brought cycling and the sporting world to a halt, has delayed that, but there is still optimism.

Shaw began the season in Spain, with a two-day race in Valencia before cycling was shut down.

Inactivity in the peloton means more time for training, and for her day job with Leeds-based nutrition company OTE.

Shaw has been a part-time rider ever since graduating university with a degree in sport and exercise science.

“Working with OTE gives me the flexibility to do training and work alongside each other,” says Shaw, who, like Deignan, got into the sport when as a teenager she was spotted by British Cycling recruiters on a visit to Prince Henry Grammar School.

“Prior to the shutdown, I was doing between 20 and 25 hours working and the training hours would vary depending on the weather.

“And the team I am with are a very professional set-up. It’s a step in the right direction and it’s good to be part of a professional British set-up.

“I actually went out to Spain a couple of times in February for a training camp, taking leave from work every time I do that. Fortunately, they’re very good at allowing me to do that.”

Which brings us back to the shattered state she was in on that plastic chair in Bedale 10 months ago.

As a semi-professional rider, contesting the Tour de Yorkshire is one of the highlights of her season.

Particularly that edition of the women’s race, which was headlined by star names like Deignan and Vos, and stacked deep with talent as 14 of the top 15 teams in the world descended on one of the more lucrative women’s races on the calendar. Furthermore, Shaw is traditionally a criterium rider, more accustomed to short, sharp street circuits than long-distance stage races.

“The punchy climbs are still good for me, and I’ve got to train on these roads,” she says of her familiarity with Yorkshire.

“I always want to go well at the Tour de Yorkshire, it’s such a big race, but with having the world’s best riders you’ve always got to be realistic.

“So, for me, targeting the National Criterium Championships in which I got a bronze medal last year, is the main aim. But injury played a part in my season last year so I’m hoping to be injury-free.

“It’s the crits that suit me best, the faster, shorter circuits.”

Long-term, once the wheels start turning again on the cycling world, Shaw hopes to make the step up to the professional level, to have a crack at making those moments in Bedale and Bridlington more familiar.

“You never know, it really depends on performances and how things go throughout the year, but you never say never,” she says.

“Ultimately, I’d love to be a full-time professional but, unfortunately, not a lot of women can call themselves a full-time professional at the moment.

“As things go, it is getting better, so hopefully one day I can reach that stage.”