The World Tour: lessons and challenges
I would say it’s probably the fastest progression into the World Tour
It’s hard to disagree with this statement. In two years, Whelan was catapulted from local bike rides in his hometown to the greatest stage of the cycling world, the World Tour, courtesy of EF Education First. However, this impressive rise quickly brought about the flip side of the coin, as Jimmy explains:
It was a really aggressive development. And I say aggressive because it was almost too much. Because you can get away with the lack of the technical skills and get away with just a big engine in the Under-23 races because it’s not as hectic. But when I signed the contract with EF, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I didn’t understand the racing, I didn’t understand the technical complexity of it all, the risks. The biggest thing as an Australian, you come across from the Under-23s and the standard is high. But then you have to reinvent yourself as an athlete to get to the World Tour level, which is an even higher level. And that’s just the bike stuff.
I also didn’t really know how to live by myself overseas. You also have to learn how to live in Europe whilst also maintaining a very good routine; you have to be quite organized; you have to be willing to say no to a lot of things and train really hard. It’s just a lot to learn on and off the bike. The first year was just a big learning curve, I didn’t have my friends or my old coach. Literally all the variables were changed. That was probably the biggest thing. It took me about a year and a half to find my routine, which worked well with the performance. That’s when I set up in Andorra at the end of 2019. That really enabled me to get to the next level in cycling and to the level that was required to race at the World Tour. Just with all the climbing there and the altitude training, that really helped. By the third year, I finally felt like a complete bike rider that was capable of racing at the physical and technical ability of the World Tour.
There was a lot to learn. And I’m glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Because at the time of signing the contract, I had a lot of learning ahead of me that I didn’t realize. And in a way, my first year and second year on EF, it was a big, big learning curve. I had a lot to learn and I had to learn fast. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to be very well.
And it was exactly in the third year, the final year of his contract with EF Education First, when Jimmy felt ready to compete at the highest level, seeking notable results among the biggest stars of the sport, that misfortune knocked at his door:
I had too many crashes on my contract here. It was raining in Itzulia, Basque Country, in April, I hit an oil slip and a few of us crashed. I broke my pelvis, so that pulled me out of the first half of the season. And then I had a bad crash in Tour of Wallonie. In a very steep descent, I hit a really big pothole when I was in the convoy and I broke my jaw, my ribs and my wrist. It was not a good one. Naturally, in my first year at EF, I had a good season. I had a lot of race days and the team had no expectation, because I was the apprentice of the team who had no idea what he was doing. I just needed to watch and learn, which is exactly what I did. And then second year, we had COVID. So the only races I did was Tour of Poland and the Giro d’Italia. I was happy with my performances there. But I still needed that personal win or top 10 in a big race. Just to get that ticket again for another contract renewal. And then I was meant to do that in my third year. But I had these two bad crashes. And then I was able to show in the Italian races at the very end of the season, after regaining my health and training a lot in Andorra. But by that point, the team had already decided to sign other riders instead of me. So my chance at EF was gone. It was really disapointing.