The Cotswolds with Sharon Laws
DISTANCE 50.5 miles (81.2 km)
MAIN CLIMB Plenty of undulations
TOTAL CLIMB 1,256m
ACHTUNG! Busy junctions to cross at A40 and A429
Sharon Laws’ story is remarkable. In April this year she left her job in Melbourne, Australia with a mining company and joined the Halfords Bikehut Team with Nicole Cooke. Her exploits with Bikehut and the GB Team over the season gave her the opportunity to ride the Olympic and World road races with Cooke.
Those supporting performances were all the more remarkable as Laws broke her lower left leg just a few weeks before Beijing.
I met Laws in Bourton-on-the-Water, a beautiful Cotswold village in Gloucestershire. It’s Laws’s mum’s home village and where she grew up from the age of six. The river Windrush runs through the heart of Bourton, crossed by attractive low arched bridges which has led to the village acquiring its other name of ‘The Venice of the Cotswolds.’
Laws and I head out in to the Gloucestershire lanes in the direction of Cold Aston and she says: “Whenever I’m home it does remind me so much of why I love being around here and makes me feel lucky to have grown up here.”
Laws has had a nomadic life, as she explains as we roll along to Notgrove and Turkdean: “I had a gap year in Australia before doing my biology degree in Nottingham. I went to Zimbabwe and Uganda after, for three years, worked for a gap year organisation and set up an environment programme before returning to do a masters in conservation in London.
“Then I got a job there with the Department of International Development, managing environmental projects. They seconded me to the United Nations to manage environmental projects for a while. I then worked in London for a year before I went to South Africa for two and-a-half years and then came back for two and-a-half years to work at Kew Gardens managing conservation projects we were running with Rio Tinto mining. I was then seconded from Kew to Rio Tinto to help roll out a biodiversity strategy which has meant living in Australia for the last year and a half.”
It seems incredible that she ever found time to ride a bike. Laws explains: “I only really used my bike to get to places. While I was in London in 2001 I met Anna McCormack at the Expedition Advisory Centre at the Royal Geographical Society and she invited me to a birthday party weekend which turned out to be with some of the best adventure racers in the country.
“I borrowed her mountain bike and was hooked. I bought a mountain bike and did an adventure race in Greenland and the Lower Alpine Marathon and some other races. When I moved to South Africa later that summer I bought my first road bike the first weekend I was there, but I was mainly doing mountain bike endurance events.”
We descend out of Turkdean and Laws continues: “I did do a few road races in South Africa in 2004. I did the Cape Argus and I was eighth.”
Dropping down to Bibury the road passes a photogenic row of 17th century weavers’ cottages before we head for the quaint town of Burford for a cafe stop.
Laws picks up her story there. “I was working at Kew but travelling every month overseas which meant I cycled as much as I could but I didn’t really race at all.” It wasn’t until she was living in Australia that it took off.
“The road cycling in Melbourne is absolutely huge,” enthuses Laws. “I did one race in April last year and finished third and the Tour of Bright race in December.
“Bright is my favourite area north-east of Melbourne where there are big mountains and the race had a mountain top stage finish on Mount Hotham. I asked my boss if I could limit my travelling for a month so I could do it. I had a really heavy, crap bike and I won.
“The race had good Australian riders and one girl said why didn’t I get a coach and get a bike that was actually light.
“So I got this coach for four weeks before the Open Australian Nationals. I bought a new bike and came second.
“As I didn’t know who anybody was I’d written all the numbers and their names on my arm! Then someone contacted my coach and asked if I wanted to ride for Bikehut. I worked until Easter which was pretty stressful working full time, trying to train and trying to pack up my stuff. I came back and I was only here a week before I did Flèche Wallonne. That was my first race followed by the Tour de l’Aude where I got sixth.”
We leave Huffkin’s tea room and we are soon rolling along country lanes again towards Farmington and Laws continues her tale. “A week after the National ‘25’ I broke my fibula and never got as strong as I was at that point.
“I was filming with the team for the BBC. It was wet and cold. Team-mate Emma Trott was asked to attack to simulate a break and we were supposed to chase her back. It was a bit panicked and I thought I should be saying something to camera, hit a pothole, and with a camera on the bars, too many clothes on and a rucksack on my back my hands didn’t maintain contact with the handlebars.”
We keep a firm grip as we descend from Farmington back towards Bourton. “I had a plate put in my leg and four days in hospital. Eight days after the operation I was on a static bike and the first time on the road was less than two weeks after the operation.
“It was such an amazing experience to get to the Olympics, but since breaking my leg it all seems to have gone downhill. I crashed in Beijing and the Worlds didn’t go well.” Laws’s season ended with eighth place in the Roc d’Azur mountain bike event in France. “It was a nice finish. It was fun and back to what I had been doing,” she adds as we roll back to Bourton-on-the-Water.
YOUR GUIDE: SHARON LAWS
- Sharon is 34 and is currently moving to Derbyshire
- British citizen born in Kenya and brought up in Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire
- Has a BSc in Biology and a MSc in conservation
- Worked as a biodiversity advisor for Rio Tinto in Australia
- Second in Australian RR Nationals 2008
- Sixth Tour de L’Aude 2008
- National 25 TT champion 2008
- National TT champion 2008
Start at centre of Bourton and take the main road west to TL on to the A429 to TR on to the A436. TL direction Cold Aston and cont to Notgrove. TL to Turkdean then TR towards the A40. TR just before A40 and take road to Hazleton. Cont to junction with A40 to TR and then TL to Compton Abdale to TR to Withington to TL to Cassey Compton and Yanworth and cont to A429. TL to TR to Fossebridge.
TL on to B4425 and cont to A40 to TR then TL and enter Burford. TL on to A361 and TL after bridge on to A424 to TL direction Taynton, Great Barrington, Windrush, Sherbourne and Farmington. TR direction Clapton-on-the-Hill and Bourton. TL to descend to A429 to TR and take second left to TR direction Upper Slaughter. Follow road round to Lower Slaughter to retrace back to A40 junction. TR to TL back to finish in Bourton-on-the-Water.