“Cycling is my life, not much going on besides that”, is what James 'Jimmy' Whelan answers when being asked about who he is besides cycling. It defines how much Jimmy loves riding his bike. The Australian is currently living in either Gerona or Andorra, depending on whether he’s on altitude or not. But why is someone like Whelan found without a pro contract?
Whelan clearly has the watts, he has the experience as he already was a pro for three years and his life is set up in Europe, ready to race. He also has the required knowledge as he currently needs to fix everything himself: nutrition, bike, kit, … He has been close to a WorldTour contract more than once the last year, but always just lost out on it. Fellow Aussies like O’Connor, Haig, … and ex-teammates like Woods, Powless, Valgren, … are all rooting for him to get a contract. The biggest influence on why he’s not a pro anymore was bad luck, but let’s talk about how Whelan turned pro in the first place.
The Aussie was a runner until the beginning of 2016, when a returning Achilles injury forced him to stop. At the time he thought it was the worst thing that happened to him, but it appeared the best thing to ever happen to him. Barely two years after starting cycling he won U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen in an amazingly strong field. If you take a look at the results of that race, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t gone pro. With that performance, Whelan got a lot of attention from teams and signed a contract with EF, where he rode from 2019-2021.
Haunted by bad luck
Sadly, Whelan had to endure a lot of bad luck during his career. In 2021, his contract year, he went to Itzulia in top shape, but crashed very hard on an oil slip in stage 2. He doesn’t understand how himself, but he still finished the stage with a broken pelvis. He obviously was in a far too bad state to start the next day. Jimmy was so banged up that he needed to take three weeks off the bike. After that he could start riding again on the indoor trainer. He recovered and got back to racing in Tour de Wallonie, where the unfortunate happened again. Crash in front of him. No possibility to avoid it. Broken jaw and finger thus a DNF. This time one week off the bike.
Quite miraculously, he got back in shape for the Italian one day races. While he knew his contract wasn’t going to be renewed, he still worked for his teammates. It’s an understatement that it started of quite well. Valgren won back-to-back, both the Giro della Toscana and Coppa Sabatini. In both Giro dell’Emilia and Coppa Bernocchi he delivered very strong domestique work again, but the results of the team sadly didn’t follow in those races. In Tre Valli Varesine he DNF’ed due to very bad weather, as did 140 other riders. And then of course, you might be able to guess it, bad luck struck again. Whelan woke up on the day of Il Lombardia with a stomach bug. DNS and end of the 2021 season. Jimmy missed the last big goal as a pro. Afterwards he had a lot of contact with WorldTour teams, but unfortunately a definitive signing didn’t follow.
In 2022, Whelan rode for the Australian Conti Team BridgeLane. He finished second in his first goal of the season, the Aussie road race, behind a very strong Plapp. After that Jimmy won the Covid edition of Tour Down Under in a strong field, beating riders like Harper, Porte, Plapp, … Strangely, it didn’t seem to be enough for a contract. Just before his other big goals in July 2022, the French climbing races, Jimmy crashed on training with a broken shoulder as a consequence. A car stood still behind a blind corner and he rode in the back of it, unreal bad luck. After getting back in shape really fast, Whelan tested for a WorldTour team in August, but just lost out on the last spot to another climber. His hard work didn’t get rewarded, but that didn’t keep Jimmy from chasing his dream. All eyes on 2023.
All eyes on 2023
In the beginning of 2023, Jimmy’s big goal were the Aussie nationals. He didn’t dare to gamble during the race. Whelan basically rode in front the whole race. Riding like this unfortunately didn’t deliver him the win, but it showed his strength. Luke Plapp, the winner, called him the strongest rider in the race. Jimmy went that deep during the road race that he was still knackered two days later during the individual time trial. He rode the whole course, but at the end he went left instead of right to the finish. He wasn’t aware he still would’ve finished around the 7th place, because he was doing almost 100 watts less than he planned to be doing. You do the maths where he would’ve finished if he performed on his normal level.
After winning Tour Down Under the year before and being so strong during the nationals, one would think that Whelan making it to the Australian selection was a no-brainer, but nothing was less true. Because of politics which reserve places for track riders, Whelan missed the selection. No disrespect to the riders who made the cut, it’s not their fault, but Jimmy was clearly better than some of them. Looking at his own level and comparing it to the Tour Down Under level, Whelan thinks he could’ve finished on the podium. Sadly, we will never know. Afterwards, Whelan only rode two Spanish national races as those are the only races he can enter as an individual. In both he completely destroyed the field. The Aussie attacked from the beginning till the end in both races and still didn’t miss the podium once.
As Whelan doesn’t have a contract, he has to fix literally everything himself. This goes from being his own trainer to buying his own bikes. Let’s take the Aussie nationals as an example. Jimmy bought a Tarmac SL7 before the race, raced on it and sold it again. He bought an SL7 as it’s just one of the best bikes. Whelan wanted the perfect set-up, but because it’s such an expensive bike he had to sell it again after the race. At this moment Jimmy rides his old SystemSix team bike, which he bought back from EF. As TT bike he uses a Specialized Shiv with a Princeton front wheel & a Roval rear wheel. On both the road and TT bike Whelan is very aero. Jimmy didn’t have a skinsuit for the Aussie nationals, so he brought a jersey and bibs to a tailor, who made a skinsuit for €70, creative.
Apart from his kit, set-up,… he also needs to fix everything himself. He trains himself with the knowledge he gathered during his pro years. He even stays on altitude a lot in Andorra, prepared to perfection. Whelan also needs to know how to fuel properly in races. He uses carb mix & gels in races, up to 140g carbs an hour (in Aussie nationals for example). When training he uses solid food. Luckily Whelan has always been very interested in details thus he has the knowledge for it now. But all of this brings extra stress. Add his contract stress to that and it’s a wonder Whelan manages to perform like this in races.
As previously mentioned, Whelan has showed his worth numerous times already. Let’s take a look at his power profile and best performances in races. Whelans power profile, all efforts done with verified power meters:
If you want to calculate the W/kg, Whelans race weight is 63kg. Quite impressive numbers, right? Let’s analyse the table from top to bottom. The first thing that pops out is that Jimmy has a more than great sprint for a 63kg guy. A 20W/kg 5” power is really good. I don’t think he loses a lot of sprints with the local club ride. Being explosive like that also makes that he has a very good 30” & 1’ power, 15.6 & 11.5W/kg is impressive to say the least. Now we get to what is maybe Whelans strongest point. His 5-6’ power, doesn’t that ring a bell? Exactly, that is – not so coincidentally – the exact time you need for the climb on the Aussie nationals circuit, which he can blast up with almost 8W/kg. When talking about the longer efforts, yes you read that right, Whelan does 7W/kg for 12’. He did all his 10’-60’ bests at the (indoor) Rouvy Tour de Suisse. Indoor power normally is a bit lower than outside power, as it gets really hot. It makes the numbers even more impressive.
Onto some real world race power. Whelan was very strong during the 2021 Italian races as previously said. Let’s put that into numbers. In both Bernocchi and Sabatini Whelan did 5NP/kg for the whole race, in Emilia he did 5.5NP/kg for the last 2h20. That’s after he already paced on the flat. In the 1st stage of the 2022 Tour Down Under – which he won with an amazing solo – Whelan did 374NP for the last 1h16, that’s almost 6W/kg. The 2nd stage was a sprint stage. During the 3rd stage he did a 7W/kg effort for 8 minutes on Willunga Hill, after 5NP/kg all day long. In the 2023 Aussie nationals his power meter was sadly underreading. That would’ve been an interesting power file… In the first Spanish national race he did this year Whelan did 5NP/kg for 2h22. In the second one Jimmy did 5.3NP/kg for 3h14. What is even more progressive is that Whelan's power barely drops after suffering a lot. If he has spent 3000kJ’s - equally to the energy he spent in his last Spanish national race - his power almost doesn’t drop. That’s what you need in pro cycling, fatigue resistance.
It’s clear Jimmy Whelan deserves a pro contract. He has the watts, the mentality, the knowledge, … He has the full package. Let’s hope something comes up for him. Jimmy Whelan belongs in the pro peloton. Let us know in the comments in which team you would like to see him!
Pictures: © Jimmy Whelan