EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale is proud to announce the signing of 2018 U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner James Whelan. The 21-year-old will pull on #PinkArgyle as a stagiaire in 2018 before his neo-pro contract begins at the start of the 2019 season.
“This has all happened so quickly,” said Whelan, who began racing less than two years ago. “If someone had told me six months ago that I would be signing a three-year WorldTour contract now, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have been delighted, but I would have thought: ‘Well for that to happen, everything is going to have to go perfectly.’ And I’m fortunate enough to have had the right people around me and the right form to get the right results at the right time.”
“Jimmy is obviously a talented young rider and one we’re excited to bring on board, and that’s not only because we see his potential as an athlete,” said EF Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “He’s passionate about racing and about education and thinking outside traditional cycling norms. He’s a great fit for us all-around.”
An Achilles injury in March 2016 saw Whelan swap running, his first passion, for cycling. Six months later, in September 2016, Whelan pinned on his first number at a local criterium in Kew put on by Melbourne’s Hawthorn Cycling Club. Sixteen months later he finished second to Drapac-EF p/b Cannondale’s Cyrus Monk in the U23 National Road Championships. The result earned him a spot on the holistic development team alongside Monk.
“After Road Nationals, I caught up with Michael Drapac in Adelaide during the Tour Down Under. He and Vasanta Iyer, who is the general manager of the development team, offered a contract opportunity, essentially a scholarship position, to be on their team,” said Whelan.
“From a rider point of view, I was interested because it’s one of the few teams in Australia with any link, let alone a direct link, to a WorldTour team in Australia, and from a study point of view, I still have one year left of my study. It was very important to me to find a team that would support my endeavors off the bike. To have a team that not only supported but encouraged academic pursuits alongside athletic ones was really appealing.”
“I knew that Jimmy was a special talent when he challenged Cyrus for the win at Nationals,” said Drapac Capital Partners Chairman and development team owner Michael Drapac. “I was certain that Drapac-EF would be a perfect fit for him in terms of support both on and off the bike, due to him being a student, especially in urban planning, which is a degree that aligns well with any future job opportunities he may have with Drapac Capital Partners.”
Three months after Whelan signed with the development team, he and Monk self-funded a trip to Europe in April to race for the Australian National Team at several of the U23 spring classics. The pair joined EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale on their recon on Ronde van Vlaanderen. One week later, Whelan won the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen.
“To have the opportunity to go over to Europe and win my first European race, I know how fortunate I am,” said Whelan. “Most guys don’t have the chance to race in Europe as quickly as I did, and a lot of guys have three, four, five years of racing over there before they can bag a big win. I happened to get my result in one of the biggest U23 races on the calendar. It’s a reflection of my hard work, I guess, but I really see it as a credit to the support network I had. Drapac-EF helped me get that trip.”
Being so new to the sport, Whelan appreciated the win but didn’t understand the magnitude of his accomplishment until he spoke with his coach Stephen Lane post-race.
“Stephen told me that nine of the last 12 riders who have won that race have gone WorldTour the next year,” Whelan said. “That was a big moment.”
“Watching Jimmy’s progression in this last two years has been truly amazing,” said Lane. “He not only possesses the unique physiological traits to compete at a world-class level but has also proven time and time again that he has the mindset and dedication to go along with it. I have learnt just as much from him about goal setting and positive reinforcement as I hope he has from me about structuring training and pushing the limits of performance.”
The choice to join #PinkArgyle was an easy one for Whelan.
“Being a part of the WorldTour team’s development team, it was a no-brainer to follow the pathway that’s already set up,” said Whelan. “The development team has put so much into me and my cycling, and I’ve enjoyed the experience there, so it made sense to me to be a part of what’s essentially the team above it.”
Whelan will travel back to Europe in mid-June with the Drapac-EF Education First p/b Cannondale Holistic team to compete in several one-day UCI races and kermesses before moving to Girona, Spain, where he will base himself throughout his staigiare period.
“I’m in discussion with Charly [Wegelius] about my race program,” said Whelan. “We haven’t finalized anything yet. The program for the WorldTour team needs to work alongside the Australian team program. I’m hoping to get selected for Tour de l’Avenir and Worlds.
“Obviously I can’t do any WorldTour races, but hopefully I can start Tour of Britain, Japan Cup and some of the other one-day races in Italy in October,” Whelan added. “Those are all looking possible.”
Q&A with Jimmy Whelan
Q: You talk a bit about your studies. Can you tell us more about the coursework?
I’m studying a four-year course at RMIT where I’m getting my bachelor degree in urban and regional planning. I’m in my third year with one more year to go. Put simply, it’s the study of the use and regulation of land and how that comes together in the public and private sector.
The area of study is a passion of mine, and I realized that going through school that I was keen on getting into the field.
Q: What is important to you to continue to pursue your degree while racing?
I think it’s important to have an interest outside of cycling and to have job security outside of cycling. It’s becoming more and more prevalent throughout professional sports to see athletes studying or looking for job security outside their sport. Cycling won’t last forever, and I want to have something meaningful to fall back on at the end of my career.
Q: Do you know what you want to do after cycling?
Before I took up cycling, I had a student planning position in a town planning firm. I was working there for a few months, so I got a taste of what it would be like as a planner, working in the field. I imagine I could go back to that space, working in the private sector in Melbourne, working for a developer. I really enjoyed that – trying to provide an ethical and self-sufficient position for developers.
Q: What about cycling appeals to you and was it the same appeal as running?
Cycling and running are both endurance sports, but I don’t think they could be more different. I consider cycling an exciting sport that you can create a living out of. Running, it’s difficult to have a long career. The world of cycling is bigger with more worldwide interest, and with that, you have can bigger goals, more realistic goals and a bigger support network.
With cycling you can travel all over the world and meet some really interesting people. For me, that’s probably the biggest appeal, you can find like-minded people to share this journey with – the travel, the competition, the goals. It’s a pretty cool lifestyle, and it’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about your time with Drapac – EF Education First p/b Cannondale Holistic Development Team?
I’ve only been with them for three, four months, but I’ve managed to get a few tours under my belt with them. I’ve been able to travel with them. The best part – in terms of the riders, we all get along really well. It’s my first proper team, and I guess I’m surprised by how well everyone gets along. I’m stoked to be in the environment that was provided. The tours were fun, traveling interstate with the team, it felt like a boys’ weekend.
It was also great to be around like-minded people who share my passion for cycling but are also studying. When you put like-minded people together, you can achieve really great things, and I think we’ve showed that this year.
Q: Have you had a chance to consider your objectives yet for next year?
I think I’ll have a better answer to that at the end of this season. I’m not really in that space yet. I need to see how I fare in the professional peloton before I can give a realistic answer.
I’m an ambitious person. I think all professional cyclists are. I can say that I want to start the year off well at Nationals. The course suits me very well, so I’m super keen to get a first result in my first official race in the colors. It would be a dream to ride in front of my family and friends in WorldTour.
In terms of the rest of the season, I’ve discovered already that I like the one-day races in the spring. I haven’t discovered if stage races are better for me than one-day races, and the only way I’ll find out is to explore those options.
I’m still very new to the sport. After the Flanders win, people were asking if I’m a pure climber still or a one-day specialists. I got mixed reviews in that regard. Before the Flanders win, I think I was seen as a climber that would develop into a contender at stage races. Now that we know I can also do one-day races, we’ll have to find out where my real strengths are and how I’ll be most useful to the team.