The comparison between the Portuguese level and the World Tour
Participating in the GP Anicolor marked Whelan’s absolute debut in Portugal. He had never raced on national territory before, and question marks about the level of cycling practiced in our country were piling up:
I never raced in Portugal and I didn’t know what to expect. I went in quite blind. Not as blind as my EF contract, as I understand cycling a bit more now. But when you go to a new country, particularly a country that kind of has its own circuit, you don’t know the rhythm of the racing, you don’t know the riders. There was a lot to learn in that regard. You don’t know the tactics because each country has its own rhythm, so there was a lot to learn in that regard
Now, with three months of racing under his belt, Whelan can draw a conclusion that is common among many foreign athletes who experience competing in Portugal. The debate always heats up when comparing the numbers achieved in Portuguese races with those recorded by the biggest names in the sport on the grandest stages of cycling. However, Whelan is actually one of the few qualified to make such a comparison:
Everyone says is that Portugal has a really high standard of racing. And I’m from the World Tour now going into the Portuguese racing. And I think a lot of riders are interested to hear how it compares, because I have that ability to compare. And all I can say is that it is a really high standard. I mean, obviously you can’t compare the depth of the World Tour to Portuguese racing because we have the younger riders who are still learning to race and learning the crafts. But at the top end of the climbs in the final races, like the final 20 guys, they’re all really, really good riders. If we analyze the climbing power data, the group of climbers contending for victory presents similar watts/kg and VAM values to the World Tour, and this is in a context of heat and hard days. And it actually makes me question why more Portuguese riders don’t go into the World Tour ranks or Pro Tour ranks. We saw it in Clásica de Ordizia [held on July 25, 2023, ed.], the guys racing in the national races, who are at the front of those races, they’re at the front of the races against the World Tour guys. And that’s why races like Clásica de Ordizia and Vuelta a Castilla y Leon are really important. I know not all the teams are at these races, but I hope the guys understand when they go to those races what an incredible opportunity it is for them, because they have four hours of bike riding where they can really show their face to the World Tour and Pro Tour teams
As a paradigmatic example, Jimmy talked to us about the level at which the GP Joaquim Agostinho was raced, with concrete data:
For example, in GP Joaquim Agostinho, in the last stage in Alto do Montejunto, the powers I did were the same powers that I did in the World Tour. Maybe with less stress accumulation before the final climb but the power was really strong. The standards of the front guys that we were racing against was really high. It was really a lot of watts and that was after 180 kilometers, in the heat and after four days of racing. In that regard, the pure watts created after a big day is the same as the World Tour but you don’t have the stress World Tour. Mentally it is a bit easier. But even the technical skills of the bunch are super high. In that race, we had some very technical roads, up and down all day, and the skill of the bunch was really high, because if it wasn’t there would be crashes all the time because it was really technical racing and high speed.