UNASSUMING Sharon Laws has found a new level of celebrity since moving to South Africa for the winter.
Laws, the national cycling road race champion from Bourton who was cruelly denied a place in the Team GB squad at the Olympics, has continued to highlight the folly of that decision with some spectacular results in the Southern Hemisphere.
In November, she won the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Johannesburg, the world’s second-largest timed cycling event with 25,000 participants, and already this year she has added The Herald Cycle Tour in Port Elizabeth and, last weekend, the Cape 99er in Cape Town.
“It was great to win the 94.7 as it was my first ever road race nine years ago when I was based in South Africa working for the UN,” she said.
“I attacked with about 50km to go, not expecting to get away solo, but no one came with me so I just kept riding.
“It’s such a large event in South Africa and the media attention was incredible.
“I had a lot of commitments that day and the following morning was on breakfast TV. Even the gardener at the house I was staying at had heard about my win.”
“It’s great to have the opportunity to race early in the season to get in some good intensity before hitting Europe.”
In 2013, Sharon will no longer be competing alongside GB international team-mates Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead – but she plans to be no less competitive.
And having done the hard miles as a ‘team player’ for the supposedly more stellar riders , she is relishing the opportunity to perhaps sample some glory as a solo winner herself.
“I’m going to miss racing with Emma and Lizzie,” she said. “For me, 2013 is a new focus, a smaller team and the opportunity to play a mentor role to some of the younger riders and to help Ashleigh Moolman (a South African rider) in the bigger races.
“I’m looking forward to a different role and perhaps some more opportunities for myself as well.”
Laws continues to follow the sun – ‘I am not a big fan of winter, I blame it on being born in Kenya’, she joked – which means she is riding for the Momentum Toyota team in South Africa and she will move back to her summer base in Girona, Spain at the end of March to attack the European challenges with the Belgium-based Lotto Belisol outfit.
“Lotto Belisol is a smaller team but a mix of riders with different skills, so I think we will work well together, particularly in the stage races where I hope we can be competitive,” she said.
Sharon is loving the experience of riding in her national champion’s jersey, having won the title by beating London 2012 silver medallist Armitstead and Pooley last July, and plans to go all out to retain her title in Glasgow just before she turns 39 this summer.
The Glasgow course will be the same one used for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
“Having the national jersey is amazing and means so much more now I have it than I expected it to,” she said.
“It’s especially nice to have it in South Africa as sport is such a priority here and there is a lot of recognition for a national jersey.
“I will be competing in Glasgow and will give retaining the jersey my best shot, but am totally aware it will be a formidable challenge. A number of juniors have moved up to the elite category this year, and the track girls will be riding with their pro-team Wiggle Honda.”
Before she returns to Europe next month Sharon will compete in the world’s biggest timed cycling event, the Cape Argus, and also take the opportunity to explore another passion – mountain biking – in the world famous Cape Eric – 1,200 riders competing over 800km in eight days.
“I won the Cape Epic in 2004 and 2009 with the same partner, Hanlie Booyens,” said Sharon.
“We will race again together this year. It is the 10th anniversary of the event and an amazing opportunity to be able to take part again. We are riding to celebrate 10 years of friendship.
“The event has grown considerably and there are now UCI points for women and good prize money so it attracts the top level mountain bike pros.
“Hanlie works full time and I’m a road-racer so we have realistic expectations from the event and are not expecting to be defending our historic title!
“I’m hoping it will be great training for my European road season.”