Published: 17 June 2013
Report: Scott Hobro
Reigning British women’s road champion Sharon Laws admits retaining her title in Glasgow is near impossible after overcoming career threatening injuries just to make the start line in Scotland.
Laws was crowned champion in Yorkshire last year but a horrific crash when in the closing stages of March’s Cape Argus left the 38-year-old in intensive care for six days with multiple fractures of the back amongst her injuries.
It placed her cycling future in doubt and her participation in this year’s national championships implausible.
But after less than 12 weeks of rehabilitation, Laws returned to competitive action in the Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, finishing 40th, then completing the Emakumeen Euskal Bira stage race last week.
The Lotto Belisol rider will now feature in Glasgow, though still not at full fitness and asserting that a defence of her championship is unfeasible.
“I have worked really, really hard to get to a position to be able to race already; a lot of rehabilitation and training on a turbo and back on the road,” Laws said.
“It hasn’t been easy and I’m still not 100%, still quite a lot of muscular pain in my back but I know I need to get back in the peloton to get confident again and also to get stronger. You can’t simulate racing in training very well.
“When I was in intensive care I really questioned whether I would get back to racing but I thought I had to give it my best shot. It’s difficult to be racing again when I’m not that strong. It’s mentally very hard to be at the back on climbs when you are normally near the front and not to be able to be more aggressive in the race.
“I’m feeling lucky that I will be able to take part in the event but it would be unrealistic to say I will be competitive.”
Describing the damage after the incident, which saw Laws sent over her handlebars after colliding with a rider who had fallen ahead of her, she said: “I fractured the L2 vertebrae, T8 and T9 were also found to be fractured but they thought these were old injuries.
“I broke four ribs – one in two places, six necks of the ribs, had a fracture of the collar bone, lung haemopneumothorax, mild pulmonary oedema and a secondary infection in my lung. My collar bone was plated.
“I was in ICU for six days on morphine and oxygen and in hospital in a normal ward for a further eight days.”
Despite the setback Laws, part of the Team GB squad which helped Nicole Cooke to Olympic gold in the 2008 Beijing Games, insists wearing the national jersey has been an immense source of pride.
The final stage in the Bira on 9 June was Laws’ last chance to embrace the stripes before the British championships on 23 June.
“It has been a great honour to wear the jersey and, I have to admit once I had it, it meant much more than I expected it would,” Laws said.
“It was also a silver lining after the cloud of not going to the London Olympics. Racing in South Africa with the jersey was also particularly special. Sport is huge there and a national champion gets a lot of recognition.
“I’ve been really disappointed not to be able to wear the jersey until now this season and one of my drives to get back to racing was to be able to have it on my back for the last time at the races in Spain.”
The 112-kilometre course for the women’s race in Glasgow, which takes in eight laps of the 14.2-kilometre city centre circuit, is a source of intrigue for Laws who thinks the route will ensure an open race.
A British time trial champion in 2008, the 38-year-old expects Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling to be a threat in their first British championship.
“I have only seen the course profile and it’s not easy to get a sense of what it is like,” Laws said.
“I’m still not expecting it to be easy. I guess it will be more spectator-friendly and more exciting if a bigger group comes to the finish than in the last few years.
“Wiggle Honda will have the advantage of numbers but Lizzie [Armitstead] is a very smart rider and of course a very fast sprinter. She will also have Lucy Martin to help. I’m sure Lucy Garner will also be keen to do well in her first senior championships.”