ASAN, South Korea (CT) — A passing comment from Australian Pat Shaw (Avanti-IsoWhey Sport) did not go unnoticed at the Busan airport last Friday, two days prior to the opening stage of the 2016 Tour de Korea.
“This will be the last UCI race of my career, at least that’s the plan” an exhausted 30-year-old Shaw admitted to CyclingTips after a 12-hour flight from Italy.
“Afterwards, I’m going to go back to Australia to finish out the season racing the National Road Series (NRS) and then retire. It feels like it’s the right time.”
The Victorian cycling veteran may be looking to hang up the bike, but not because he’s slowing down. Shaw is arguably having his best year since dominating the NRS in 2010.
Shaw kicked things off in January by claiming stage 3 of the Bay Crits. The 10-year veteran would then go on to finish 11th on GC at the Herald Sun Tour in February and sixth at the Oceania Continental Championships road race in March.
“This is not about me not being able to do it anymore, as I feel I’ve produced some of my best rides this year already – it’s not about that,” Shaw said. “I had my chance to go to the top level and I fell short.
“But I don’t know that the WorldTour or Pro Continental level of racing is for me,” Shaw continued. “I like the more relaxed environment at Avanti (Continental). It’s always good to get results for yourself, but at the end of the day I’ve spent the best part of six years doing what’s best for the team and I find that a lot more rewarding.”
After spending a year with Satalyst-Giant in 2014, Shaw rejoined the Avanti Continental team in 2015, putting his retirement plans on hold. His role was primarily to help develop younger riders, such as sprinter Neil van der Ploeg, who is stepping into the role left vacant by Patrick Bevin, who this year stepped up to the WorldTour with Cannondale Pro Cycling.
“Every athlete is different and you have to have a different approach for each,” explained Shaw. “Neil is an experienced rider, but there are certainly those things he can do better and that’s where I try to help him out.
“Hopefully by improving his percentage of execution, he will have a higher rate of achievement, and that’s where my experience comes into play.
“But Neil is not the only good young talent, we have a really good group of guys and it’s been a real pleasure to race with them.”
Meanwhile, Shaw’s Tour de Korea rival and Drapac Pro Cycling counterpart Graeme Brown has admitted the end of his career is near as well, but is yet to put an official date on his retirement.
“I haven’t officially retired yet,” said the two-time Olympic champion, who is without question the most decorated cyclist at this year’s Tour de Korea. “I’m keeping it open … keeping everyone guessing. But yes, it’s not far away … let’s put it that way.”
The 37-year-old from Western Australia concedes he would like to race another Tour Down Under, where he currently has the record for most starts (14).
“I’d like to do another TDU,” Brown told CyclingTips. “I’m thinking that would be a great way to go out … it’s just a cool race and it would be a good time. I’ve got the record for the most starts and would like to do one more just to make sure nobody else gets it.”
Like Shaw, Brown has spent the past two years serving as a lead-out man and grooming young talents like fellow Aussie Brenton Jones, who himself is filling the void left behind by Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert who, like Bevin, joined Cannondale this season.
“I’m still having fun, generally speaking,” said the 15-year pro cycling veteran, who spent nine seasons with Rabobank-turned-Blanco-turned Belkin (2006-2014) before joining Drapac last year.
“235km days like yesterday aren’t all that fun, and makes me think ‘what the hell am I doing?’ … but seeing guys like Brenton grow and learn makes it still enjoyable.”
When asked if there is anything he would miss most once he walks away from the sport, Brown responded without hesitation.
“Oh yeah, I’ll miss my mates in the bunch for sure,” admitted Brown. “However, I won’t miss the suffering … that’s not that enjoyable. But I’ve got three boys at home and I occasionally get phone calls from them crying at night when I’m away, and that makes it a bit hard as well.
“It’s especially hard on the missus at the moment, as we are moving house just four days after I get back for Korea, so that doesn’t help.”
With two world titles and two Olympic gold medals on the track, as well as nine stage wins at the Le Tour de Langkawi on the road, plus three at the Tour Down Under and one each from the Tour of Pologne and Tour of California, there are no real regrets for the Perth native. There are races he wishes he’d done, though.
“I would’ve like to have done the Tour de France and probably Paris-Roubaix, even though I hate that race,” said Brown, who is currently working with the Drapac transition programme to begin work as a personal trainer and public speaker post cycling.
“I could have done it with Rabobank in my first year, but I told them I wasn’t interested and in hindsight I would have liked to have raced it at least once,” he continued. “But at the time I didn’t want to do it as cobbled races never appealed to me.
“I love watching it, but couldn’t think of anything worse than racing it.”
Unlike Brown, Shaw never made it past the Continental level, but that’s not something that keeps him up at night.
“I watched Moneyball on the plane coming here and there is a good quote that says: ‘We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play a children’s game. We don’t know when that’s going to be, 18 or 40, but we’re all told’ and that’s something that resonates with me,” shared Shaw. “I think it’s time for me to move on to that next period in life and I think it’s a smart transition in doing it early, but not too early.”
According to fellow Avanti alumnus, Nathan Earle (Drapac Pro Cycling), Shaw has earned much more than WorldTour status – he’s earned respect.
“You know, you look at a guy like Pat Shaw, and you see a cyclist that is so respected in the peloton and you don’t even think about what level he’s raced at or what races he’s won,” said Earle, who joined Drapac after spending the past two years in the WorldTour with Team Sky.
“He is great guy on and off the bike, and I know WorldTour riders that could only hope to have that kind of respect in the peloton … we should all hope to be thought of so highly.”
While Shaw stands by his decision to end his racing career at the end of the year, he fully understands his final days as a pro cyclist will not come painlessly.
“It’s never going to be easy to step away,” concluded Shaw. “I love the sport, I love to compete and I love to fight … I’m going to miss that, but as some stage you have to give it away and move on.
“Now it’s time to go home and be a dad full-time and start working in the family business … and that sounds like a pretty good life to me.”