The departure from EF Education First left Whelan without a team. The return to Australian soil seemed inevitable, and it was with Team Bridgeline, an Australian continental team, that Whelan found the necessary support to reignite his career. Once again, it was on the stage of the Australian National Championships that he made his comeback to competitive cycling, with a strong performance, showing his determination not to give up:
Naturally, it’s difficult to negotiate a contract after two big crashes. It’s difficult for teams to understand the situation and to understand if I’m fully back to my health. Naturally, you don’t want to buy a product if you think it’s going to be faulty. That was my situation. Luckily, as an Australian, you have every January a chance to try and win the Australian Nationals. So in my situation, it was the perfect motivation to try and win the road race and to show that I was still a world-class bike rider racing against the best bike riders. I came second in the Australian Nationals and was hoping that that would get me a bit of spotlight on my name. And maybe a few teams had available spots, but a few conversations happened. But I just didn’t quite go ahead with World Tour and Pro Tour teams.
Destined to fulfill the Australian national calendar, Whelan quickly demonstrated that the quality that had taken him to the World Tour wasn’t lost on the roads of the Basque Country and Wallonia:
I won the Santos Festival of Cycling, which was kind of like the Aussie only Tour Down Under because of COVID, and I thought I would actually be able to get back in the game. But again, conversations fell short, teams were full. I was on Team Bridgeline that year so I was lucky to have the support of them throughout the season.
With the doors to Europe and the big teams closed once again at the end of last season, all that remained was the same formula that has brought some success to Whelan, in the early months of this year:
I still couldn’t find a pro contract at the end of last year and did the same thing more or less with the Australian Nationals. Showed I was still in really good form and a really good bike rider. And then came to Europe, still trained, thinking that a spot could open up with teams I’ve spoken to. And there was a few conversations again going, but it’s really difficult to understand how legitimate or how close these conversations could be to paper.