Andy Shackel recognises he is a lucky man.
Now the 22-year-old, from Portsmouth, is determined to make the most of his good fortune and carve a niche for himself among some of the finest bike riders in the country.
Shackel was this month unveiled on the 2018 roster of Vitus Pro Cycling – one of seven UK-based UCI men’s road racing teams.
Led by owner and sports director Cherie Pridham, the outfit is the new incarnation of the long-standing Continental set-up Team Raleigh.
News emerged of the British bike manufacturer’s decision to call time on seven years of support for the squad back in December, leaving Pridham seeking fresh investment.
Adam Kenway and Grant Martin are the only two men retained from last term’s Team Raleigh GAC line-up as Pridham opted for a new, youthful direction.
With so many bike riders fighting for so few contracts in the domestic peloton, Shackel’s elevation to become part of the new-look Vitus set-up will have caught many by surprise.
And the fact some vastly-experienced and talented racers have been left without rides this season is not lost on the former Portsmouth Grammar School and South Downs College student.
But while he knows he faces a steep learning curve, Shackel is determined to take advantage of each and every opportunity he is given.
It is hard to see so many strong riders without teams. I do feel so lucky to have an opportunity like this and I am determined to make the most of itAndy Shackel
The former i-Team rider said: ‘I know how lucky I am to have a place on such a good team. So many guys I know, who have been involved with top-end teams, have been left without rides.
‘It is hard to see so many strong riders without teams. I do feel so lucky to have an opportunity like this and I am determined to make the most of it.
‘It has always been a long-term goal of mine. The dream is to be able to do it at such a level that, financially, it is all you have to do.
‘There are not a lot of people in the UK who are lucky enough to do that, though. You have to find a way around it.
‘The way I see it, particularly this year, it is about finding myself a position, a niche where I could potentially do that.
‘I know I have a long, long way to go. It is going to be a really big learning curve but long term that would be the goal.
‘It won’t be easy. And it would never be a luxury life by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it is possible to find your way around it.’
Shackel caught the eye of Pridham with 16 victories – including the South Region Crit Championship – in 2017. He joined teenagers Joe Reilly, Tim Torrie and Liam Davies in the 10-man squad released at the beginning of January.
Spanish track talent Julio Amores Palacios, former Great Britain Olympic Development Programme rider Leon Gledhill and ex-Pedal Heaven rider Harrison Jones have also signed.
Meanwhile Josh Hunt, who has ridden for ONE Pro Cycling for the past three seasons, will provide vital experience on a roster with an average age of only 22.
Vitus will contest the top road races on the domestic circuit, such as the Lincoln Grand Prix, as well as home UCI battles.
The Rutland-Melton International CiCLE Classic and Beaumont Trophy will be in the mix, while they will be hopeful of earning spots at the high-profile Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain stage races.
Shackel is most at home on the crit circuit and that’s where he expects to be utilised by Pridham in the coming campaign – with the Tour Series high on his wishlist.
But after breaking two vertebrae in a crash at the Milan round of the Red Hook Crit Series in October, he knows he is already playing catch-up.
Shackel added: ‘At the end of last year I decided to race the Red Hook crits. I raced in Barcelona and finished 32nd, which I was really happy with.
‘They are amazing events. The atmosphere is incredible. It is like racing something like the London Nocturne, just on a track bike.
‘Then I went to Milan and ran out of talent! I took a corner too fast and basically fractured two vertebrae. I was immobile for quite a while.
‘It is the worst cycling accident I’ve had. I was riding my bike with the drops turned upside down for a while and have been restricted to the turbo for a long time.
‘I’m back to somewhere near 100 per cent now. On the bike I’m fine, it is day-to-day when it can get a bit uncomfortable.
‘The Vitus deal was not in place at that point. Cherie knew about the accident, though, and is well aware of my recovery.
‘I might have to push racing back a tiny bit. We’ll see how it goes. But Cherie was very understanding about it all.’
Shackel, who works as a buying assistant at Wiggle and has raced in the company’s jersey since 2013, has expert knowledge of the Vitus Vitesse EVO his team will be riding.
Last season he competed on the frame, which was also used by Irish UCI professional outfit An Post Chain Reaction.
And during the past few campaigns he has sprinted to numerous victories on Prime wheels – another of his employer’s in-house brands.
Shackel believes peace of mind and faith in his equipment will be crucial as he aims to get up to speed quickly in such a competitive landscape.
The Bexley Heath-born talent, who will continue to work full-time at Wiggle, said: ‘It will be very good to be on stuff I have already ridden and have confidence in.
‘It is always nice to get new kit. But when it is kit you have worked with already and you know is good quality, that’s a bonus.
‘It is exciting I am going to get the chance to take my cycling on, race at the next level but also retain that link with Wiggle, too.
‘They have always been very understanding and supportive, so hopefully I will be able to continue juggling the two.
‘The demands on my time will be higher. But it will depend what races I am selected for and which I end up targeting.
‘I have to be realistic. It is a huge step up. I need to wait for the opportunities and wait for the team to pick me to ride in races.
‘But I will take any chances I’m given. It will be a year with a lot of learning and I will be taking a lot from it, not just in terms of results.’
Click here to read more from Shackel as he reflects on his early days, working and racing for Wiggle, Vitus bikes, his new team kit and his ambitions for 2018.