SHARON LAWS, the former national road race champion and Beijing Olympian who grew up in Bourton-on-the-Water, has confirmed that the 2016 season will be her last.

Laws who turns 42 next month, has loved her combined role as racer and mentor this season with the fledgling UK professional team Podium Ambition.

But she has been frustrated in having to sit out the most important domestic race in her sport, the Women’s Tour – which was won in Kettering on Sunday by her former GB team-mate Lizzie Armitstead – and she has decided not to have one final tilt at the national road race championships which she won in 2012.

“It is hard to put into words how disappointed I was to miss out on the Women’s Tour,” Sharon told The Standard in an exclusive interview.

“Two of the reasons for doing another season was for the opportunity to race at the Tour of California and the Women’s Tour.

“I was excited by the prospect of the Women’s Tour as it goes close to where I grew up in Bourton, the crowds are always spectacular and it looked a much harder course this year.

“With Podium Ambition riding in it last year I was confident our team would be offered an entry despite the World Tour requirements. Unfortunately only a GB National Team and one British team outside the top internationally-ranked 15 teams were able to participate and Drops Cycling were given the opportunity over our team.

“I think it is sad that they couldn’t have one more British team as it would inspire young riders who could associate with British girls as role models.

“Instead two other teams from different countries, who are currently ranked outside the top 15, were given places.

“Even with the race going close to our team figurehead Dame Sarah Storey’s house made no difference – and I know she shares my disappointment.”

Laws has an MSc in conservation and travelled the world in her past life before making her road race debut at the age of 33.

Her employers included the likes of the British government, the UN and Rio Tinto Zinc. And it is a world to which she will return on her retirement from full time cycling.

“I decided to continue to race an additional year in 2016 than I had planned, because I had an unhappy season in 2015,” she said.

“Podium Ambition has provided me with a great opportunity to finish my career on a positive note.

“I am enjoying racing with the girls on the team, the chance to do some new races and return to favourite races and to add some mountain biking in the mix. I love the ethos of the team and I hope I have been able to help it as it continues to grow.

“It is great to be part of the team in their first UCI-registered year and I am sure it will become bigger and more successful in the future.”

Though enjoying 2016 so far Sharon has been hampered by sickness.

“Until the Tour of California, I was under-par for the races I have done,” she revealed. “I didn’t have the best first day at California (which was at altitude) but once we got to sea level I felt much stronger and finished 18th overall.

“I was sick at the Tour of Yorkshire, however the crowds made it a real highlight and I hope the race will grow to more than just one day.

“Unfortunately I was also sick for the Tour of Flanders and, although I didn’t have a great result, it was still a highlight just to take part.”

But, now healthy, she has just posted her best result of the year, when third at the Alpen Trophy in Austria, at her alternative love – mountain biking.

“The team is flexible in terms of meeting the different needs and wishes of the individual riders and this has enabled me to combine some mountain biking into my programme,” she added.

“I wanted to see if I had benefited from over two weeks spent at altitude in the USA and the Alpen Trophy Tour, a UCI stage race, seemed a good opportunity.

“I was really happy to get on the podium as I hadn’t ridden the mountain bike since March, had no support crew and was riding a dual suspension bike, which was much heavier than the hard tails the majority of riders had.

“The race brought a new meaning to hill climbing and was brutal! I am still much slower than the ‘real’ mountain bikers on the descents and technical stuff and can’t take risks with my road programme being the priority but fortunately I could make a bit of time on the climbs. All in all, it was a highlight – even if a tough one!”

She also explained why the national championships, which take place this weekend in Stockton-on-Tees from June 23-26, are not on her agenda.

“I have decided not to compete in them this year, said Sharon. “If Podium Ambition had done the Women’s Tour I would have stayed on for the Nationals.

“The course profile indicates that it is likely to be a bunch sprint and for this reason, both the team and myself, think I can benefit more from staying at home in Girona (Spain) and training than I will by making the trip back to the UK.”

And there is plenty more to look forward to for Laws and her Podium Ambition team.

“We will be racing the Tour of Bretagne in mid-July and both our excellent time triallers, Sarah Storey and Claire Rose, stand a chance of a good result. My aim there will be to support the team and especially these riders – hopefully to the podium.

“We then will be racing at Ride London, the Women’s Tour of Norway and the Tour of Ardeche. The latter has a very hilly profile including a mountain top finish on Mont Ventoux – which will be incredible.

“It’s great to be part of a British team, with some very good sponsors and a group of very motivated athletes.

“Racing and mentoring the team is probably 50:50 at the moment. I’m enjoying playing more of a leadership role in the races and having race radios this year (a new UCI rule) in the majority of races has helped me advise the girls when they need to be at the front, or when they could attack etc.

“I think perhaps one of the main things I have been able to offer the team is the knowledge of other girls in the peloton – their strengths and weaknesses – and of the races themselves, as I have done most of them before.”

Sharon loves the Catalan lifestyle at her home in Girona and has already started organising cycling holidays nearby. And she admits she won’t be leaving her bikes in the garage forever when she pulls off the Lycra racing colours for the final time.

“I will continue to ride for fitness and enjoyment,” she said, “and probably do the odd mountain bike stage race – but there are a lot of other things I would like to do.

“Although cycling full time has been an amazing opportunity, that many don’t get the chance to try, it can also be quite restrictive.

“I’m particularly looking forward to spending more time with family and friends, not having to be so disciplined about training and hopefully earning a bit more money!”