WOMEN’S cycling steps up to a new level in the UK with the inaugural running of the Women’s Tour in 2014.
And that means the Cotswolds’ very own former national road race cycling champion, Sharon Laws, originally from Bourton-on-the-Water, will be coming home from her new base in the States to race in Britain not once but twice in the coming weeks.
Sharon had already planned to return in a bid to regain her national title at Abergavenny in June, but her American-based racing team, United Healthcare – dubbed ‘The Blue Train’ – are also taking the Women’s Tour seriously enough to send over a crack squad for the race next month.
That will not only include Sharon but also another Brit, sprinter extraordinaire Hannah Barnes, who celebrates her 20th birthday on the first day of the race which takes place in her native Northampton.
Talking to the Standard from her home in Asheville, North Carolina, Sharon said: “To say it is great news about the new Women’s Tour is an understatement – Hannah was dancing around our apartment.
“It is going to be such a high profile event and to be part of it is fantastic.
“It is going to be quite a challenge for me as I do a five-day stage race in New Mexico immediately before the Tour. I fly straight after and race in the UK the next day, so I am likely to be jet-lagged but I didn’t want to miss it.”
Someone who won’t want to miss it either is Sharon’s Bourton-based mum Joy.
“Mum has never been able to watch me before so this is another highlight,” said Sharon.
Laws and the new UHC pro cycling team have made an excellent start to 2014, winning an event in El Salvador and much stronger competitions in Argentina and in California last weekend, when she won the Redlands Classic 'Queen of the Mountains' jersey for her relentless hill climbing.
Sharon had a couple of individual podium places in Argentina, where her principal job was to help set up a race win for the team's No.1 Mara Abbot. And that included a punishing stint riding up the side of a volcano.
"The volcano climb has to be the most challenging I have ever ridden," said Sharon. "It had an average of 10 per cent with pitches of more than 20 per cent and the climb was 14km long!
"I had to put in a very solid attack on the volcano climb to place the other General Classification (GC) riders under pressure so that Mara could then launch her winning attack.
"Standing alongside Mara on the podium were girls who had finished third and eighth in the World Cup in Italy. But the Tour (in Britain) will be our real yard stick. The best teams and riders in the world will be in Britain. The start list is particularly impressive.
"And then we have the Nationals in Abergavenny which will be like going full circle for me as that is where I was based when I first started cycling full time.
"I haven’t been back to the Cotswolds for over two years now so I’m really looking forward to being there as I will spend a few days with mum after both events."
While the weather in Asheville has not been as good as she had become used to in her previous South African and Spanish bases, Sharon is delighted with the early form of 'The Blue Train'.
“Yes, it has been a great start,” she said. “The attention to detail that the staff put into the races is one of the reasons for such a good start.
“It is a very professional set-up, a great group of girls and staff and there is a lot of excitement for the season ahead.”
That’s not to say her training has been without the occasional hiccup.
Just over a week ago, Sharon’s competitive year could have been ended when she was hit by a car while out on a training run. She was flung over the bonnet before being deposited unceremoniously on her backside.
“I had been in bed sick for two days and by the third day I was desperate to get some fresh air so thought I would just have an easy spin,” said Sharon.
“A lady was leaving her local post office and didn’t see me on the main road and just pulled out in front of me. I hit the front side of her car, went over the bonnet and slid off, landing on my bottom!
“It wasn’t too serious. I got a bit bruised, some whiplash and a sore coccyx. It was just frustrating and something I could really have done without as I had to take two more recovery days and get some massage treatment.
“The bike's wheel was buckled and the handlebars and saddle were misaligned. It didn’t, however, warrant the two fire engines and police who turned up!”
The Women’s Tour begins on Wednesday, May 7 at Oundle and Stage One takes the riders through the Althorp Estate, early home and last resting place of Princess Diana, which is being opened specially for the race. The Tour finishes four days (and 493 km) later on Sunday, May 11 in Bury St Edmunds.