Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Llori Sharpe: A triathlete turned cyclist

Posted on 13 April 2022 by Toby Rathborne
Image provided by Canyon//SRAM captured by @ThomasMaheux

As the finish to the Il Liga Autonomica de Féminas approaches, in response, Llori Sharpe ups her cadence and bursts for the line, milking every reserve of energy she has left to claim third place.

Not bad for her European racing debut. Especially considering the 21-year-old had been training as a triathlete just two years prior.

At the time, cycling was just another piece of the triathlon puzzle. However, her relationship with the bike changed as she battled with ‘runner’s knee’ during the pandemic.

Seated under slate-grey skies, Sharpe recalls the challenging period:

“I was in the mindset of a triathlete at the time, so it was pretty frustrating, as you could imagine, not being able to really do what you enjoy.

“But luckily, cycling was always there for me. So that allowed me an escape from the drama and everything that came with the pandemic.”

Sharpe’s escape soon became her passion as she watched more road and gravel races, cementing her appreciation for the sport. This was when she decided to make the transition to cycling and set her sights on a new goal:

“When I made the switch from triathlon to cycling, I think if you were to ask my mom, she would say that I would not stop talking about wanting to sign with a team.”

Then on the 21st of January 2022, Sharpe signed with Canyon//SRAM Generation beating 239 applicants from 62 countries to join the new UCI Continental squad.

In doing so, she became the first Jamaican to sign a professional cycling contract with a team in Europe.

“The opportunity was one I could not miss, and it was so exciting. I was just so elated, having been shortlisted and then being selected as a member of the team. It’s just something that’s so cool.”

Championing diversity in cycling

Canyon//SRAM Generation has a two-tier system that is the first of its kind for a European-based team which provides a route to the apex of the Women’s World Tour.

It also aims to promote diversity and inclusion at the top level of cycling with an eclectic team from Jamaica, Kenya, Germany, Paraguay, Rwanda, Malaysia, Namibia and Sierra Leone.

Image provided by Canyon//SRAM captured by @ThomasMaheux

Despite her young age, Sharpe understands the importance of her representation in the peloton, she said:

“I definitely think I have somewhat of a responsibility that I put on myself to try and expose the region (Caribbean) as much as possible, and I believe signing with Canyon//SRAM Generation is a step in the right direction to have Caribbean athletes see that cycling is something that you can pursue.

“I know a lot of times people may not see the opportunities there for them, and they may just quit the sport altogether. But hopefully, this maybe encourages others to stick with it for a bit longer and see where it can take them.”

Sharpe’s journey to the top of the mountain

“My introduction to sport started when I was about eight months old. My mom signed me up for learn to swim lessons. They just threw me in the water in my diapers, and it’s just been nonstop sports since then.”

An evident sports obsessive, Sharpe went through the gamut of sports, from karate to ballet. But her time in the pool was what she enjoyed most, so she joined ‘The Tornadoes Swim Club’ and began competing. Then came Jamaica’s gravitational pull to the athletics track, where Sharpe raced in long distance.

After seeing her progression in both disciplines, Sharpe’s coach suggested that she add cycling to complete the trio of sports needed for triathlon. It was a move that paid off as she excelled, reaching the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

However, when the pandemic hit, Sharpe’s career swung into uncertainty. Restricted pool facilities kept her from swimming, and her knee injury stopped her from running.

But during this difficult spell, Sharpe adapted by cycling. Here she found success winning bronze at the Caribbean Cycling Championships time trial before signing her new contract.

Image provided by Canyon//SRAM captured by @ThomasMaheux

A promising future

The move to the team has been smooth for Sharpe, who credits the squad and her teammates with helping her adapt.

Although flying from Jamaica to a gelid German winter – where the team is based – Sharpe was unprepared for the substantial plunge in temperature.

“It’s been a mixture, exciting, of course, because I’m always open to experiencing new things. But at the same time, when I came here (Germany), it was winter, and this was the first time I was exposed to such low temperatures.”

Luckily for Sharpe, she escaped to a more forgiving Spanish climate to debut with the team, finishing third place overall and second in the under 23’s category.

After her promising start to the season, Sharpe remains grounded and is committed to gaining as much experience as possible.

“It’s all about learning, growing, improving in every aspect, especially technically improving as much as possible. Just learning how my team works and looking to properly execute our race plans.”

Image provided by Canyon//SRAM captured by @ThomasMaheux