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James Whelan fights for WorldTour return at Australian Road Nationals

BUNINYONG AUSTRALIA JANUARY 16 LR Lucas Plapp of Australia and James Whelan of Australia compete during the Australian Cycling National Championships 2022 Mens Elite Road Race a 1856km race from Buninyong to Buninyong AusCyclingAus on January 16 2022 in Buninyong Australia Photo by Con ChronisGetty Images
James Whelan (Team BridgeLane) with Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) coming up behind in the elite men's road race in the Australian Road National Championships 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Australia’s Road National Championships  have always been an opportunity for young riders to capture the attention of top-level international teams as they try to ignite a professional career in cycling. For James Whelan it was a chance to re-ignite and save his career. 

The 25-year-old rider recently came on board at Australian continental squad Team BridgeLane after failing to secure a WorldTour contract in 2022, following more than three years with EF Education-Nippo. He was determined to make a mark at the national championships and was quick to jump in the moves and shoot out the front solo on more than one occasion. 

For a while it looked like he would win. He was out the front alone with a solid gap on a hot day in Buninyong as the laps were trickling away quicker than the sweat induced salt stains were accumulating on riders jerseys. Only Lucas Plapp was able to make a brave chase, catch him and go on to win.

“I obviously gave it a bit of a long flyer with about three laps to go there. I gave it everything I could," said Whelan after coming second. 

"Unfortunately there was a Lucas Plapp in the field and he is a pretty good TT’er and he is a class act.”

“I knew I was in trouble when he was coming across solo. I thought maybe if he was with a few other guys maybe they would muck around and I’d stay away but with the class of Plappy I knew If he caught me I could just try and just get on his wheel, but he caught me right at the right time. I am impressed with that,” said Whelan, referring to title winner Plapp’s acceleration to make sure he could make the junction on, instead of after, the final climb.

“I was riding for second but you know it has been a dream of mine to be on the podium. It's a dream of mine to win the thing, but I’ll take second for now.”

A win and podium may have been a long held dream, but this year there was extra urgency. When asked if he wanted to prove a point after not securing a WorldTour contract for 2022 Whelan’s response was an unequivocal, “Oh yeah.”

“There is a reason why that wasn’t very painful. I was crazy motivated.”

Whelan said he’d trained hard, and included heat training in order to give himself every opportunity to do a good ride.

“I would still love the opportunity to go to the WorldTour, I fell short with a few teams. Maybe this ride will help some negotiations.”

If that doesn’t pan out, however, there’s still plenty of racing ahead for Whelan with Team BridgeLane, starting with the Santos Festival of Cycling later this month, then the Melbourne to Warrnambool and a European stint of racing also in the plans. 

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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.