© Henry Iddon
Cycling is an exhilaratingly tough activity, be it racing, touring or even an afternoon potter through the lanes – so many variables can impact on a ride. The brutality of the sport perhaps explains why Recycling.co.uk Team professional Rob Sharman, overall winner of the 2005 British Cycling Premier calendar road race series, confirmed that if he were not an Elite level racing cyclist, his life would be somewhat different.“I would probably have bought a VW camper van and be just driving around, listening to chilled out reggae tunes, surfboard on top, living a life of leisure by the beach.”
A fantasy, conceivably a form of escapism for a rider who likes to train hard and who indicates that he likes his racing tough
“I tend to go well when it’s hard and people are dropping off the back of the bunch, long preferably hilly races suit me.”
So how did the Derbyshire professional catch the cycling bug?
“ I have three brothers, two older and one younger and they were all into cycling, we used to watch the Tour de France and I just followed them into it. I just liked the sport, it catches your imagination.”
The Sharman brothers maintained their enthusiasm during the summer of 1992, Rob was then just a twelve year old school boy, however, over the next couple of years it was only Rob and his eldest brother who continued their interest in the sport. Sharman confesses that as a teenager he spent most of his time at school dreaming about cycling, similar to any other youngster who has a goal in life
“I did alright academically, I got all my A levels but I didn’t fancy going to University.”
© Henry Iddon
Now based in Manchester, Sharman grew up in Repton, a small picturesque South Derbyshire village that was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. His first foray into organised cycling was with the South Pennine Road Club. Following signs of early promise Sharman was spotted by Dave Wilkes.
“He’s still my coach now, he runs Team Bradgate, so I joined them because of the coaching link really. I was with Bradgate for a couple of years, then in the summer of 2000 I achieved a number of good results and I was taken on by British Cycling’s World Class Performance Plan.”
In 2001, the British Cycling Federation placed four talented riders, including Sharman, with the French team Nantes 44. “It was to give us a load of experience, it was really good”.
Nantes, France’s sixth largest town, 50 km from the Atlantic Coast, was to be home during the racing season for the next two and a half years.
“It was different, but probably one of the best periods of my life.”
So what was learnt from racing in France?
“ It’s hard, if you’re not going well, you can’t really hide, especially in the amateur races, they are so hard. I’m now more tactically aware from racing in France, you learn how to ride in cross-winds, positioning in the bunch, predicting race patterns. I’ve learnt almost everything I know from over there, although I’m still learning now. It’s quite a harsh lesson in cycling terms being in France.”
© Henry Iddon
Back in 2001, Sharman’s Nantes 44 team mate, Tom Southam, wrote a number of quirky interviews, his British team mates being his subjects. Sharman’s interview revealed his linguistic and culinary skills needed a little work, initially obtaining satisfactory haircuts was an issue, as was the fact that the French didn’t sell baked beans! The interview also revealed that to add variety to the copious amounts of pasta a cyclist has to consume, Sharman would “balance this out with as many bowls of cereal as is humanly possible.”
“I’m now pretty fluent, after 2001 I spent the following two years in France, I was getting pretty good in the end. We all took turns cooking, picking up quite a few skills and our host was a pretty good cook too.” It is interesting to note that the current crop of talent on British Cycling’s books have extra curricular lessons to improve their foreign language and cooking skills before they set off for the continent.
After two and a half years in France, Sharman finished half way through the 2003 season
“I fell out with the [French] team, so I came back home. I think it was time really. To be honest, I wasn’t really going anywhere and I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore.”
On reflection Sharman is positive about the experience “I met some fantastic people and had some brilliant times. I did enjoy the racing from time to time, but a lot of the time you are spending alone, it’s quite bleak, sweet and sour really. But I do have some fantastic memories.”
© Henry Iddon
Sharman offers some sound advice to aspiring young riders who have a dream of being a continental professional cyclist
“Just get out there and do it, you will soon figure out if it’s for you. Bear in mind you are obviously working towards a job at the end of the day and there’s a bit of a darker side of the sport that’s becoming more evident now, just think about what you want out of life. It’s not the end of the World if you don’t go Pro’. Have fun, the best thing you can do is just to enjoy it.”
So what does 2006 hold for Sharman ? In March a ride at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia beckons
“My mum called me and said I was down for the [English] road race team”
Sharman enthused. Otherwise a comparable schedule to 2005 will be raced, with focus on the UK Premier Calendar series mixed with some international competition. “I’d be happy to do a similar thing” the talented rider confirmed.