• James Whelan (R) pips Michael Potter (L) for second place at the FedUni Road National Championships. (Kathryn Watt)
Known quantities performing well in the men's under 23 road race are worthy of note, but when a rider explodes from nearly nowhere to upstage the big names, you know that is a career worthy of following closely.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

10 Jan - 11:36 AM 

James Whelan was that unknown rider less than six months ago, making an eye-catching National Road Series debut as a guest rider for Van D'am Racing at Battle Recharge before backing up with a near-win at the prestigious Tour of Tasmania.

He came into the under 23 men's road race as the rider on everyone's lips. He proved the talk was no empty rumour, showing his worth with a second-placed finish against a field of riders far more experienced than him.

He started the final lap in the second group on the road, behind runaway winner Cyrus Monk (Drapac EF Holistic Development Team) and while the gold medal was decided up the road, jumped away to take the silver.

Monk thrives in heat for first national title
Initially furious that organisers cut the event distance, Cyrus Monk won the under-23 Australian road race championship with a daring solo move.

"On the last lap, we had everyone yelling out 40-45 seconds (gap to Monk). I thought it was do-able and we sort of bridged it pretty close going over the crest.

"But we played a bit of cat and mouse for the rest of the course and Cyrus riding threshold was always going to stay away," Whelan said.

"It was a race for second coming into 2-3 kilometres to go. I went off the front with a kilometre and a half to go because I'm not a sprinter and it was my best card to play."

The final sprint saw Michael Potter (Australian Cycling Academy) come close to overhauling Whelan.

"I could tell by the crowd that he was getting pretty close and it was really close by the end. I was sort of cramping in the sprint and I only held on by a few metres."

Thoughtful and softly spoken, Whelan also appears to have the temperament to do well within the sport, deftly handling the hot and windy conditions out on course while dealing with the tactics of largely being isolated at the front of the race. The silver medal adds to an already impressive palmares despite his limited race appearances to date.

"It's the biggest result I've ever had, I transferred over about 18 months ago, had a few results in the Tour of Tasmania (where Whelan rode to third overall despite being without a team) but nothing like this one," he said.

A former middle-distance runner, Whelan is part of a growing trend of promising talent transferring across from running to cycling, a transition that has so far suited the 21-year-old from Melbourne. The youngster now has his eyes set on developing further in the sport, an ambition he will soon realise with continued high levels of performance.

"It's a lifestyle, not a sport," Whelan said, "you have to put everything into it, but if you have the passion, time and support you can make anything happen. I just to focus on developing and letting people create opportunities for me, whether that be through my team or selectors. I just have to focus on my training and get results where I can."

Inform-MAKE team owner Cameron McKimm was ecstatic with his new charge's performance, tipping that the young rider as a potential star of the future.

"Jimmy has all the attributes to make it all the way in the sport," he said. "Incredibly talented, very professional and extremely determined. Can time trial and climb and is also explosive.

"For someone who has only been riding for just over 18 months, his results are phenomenal. The sky is the limit, an exciting career ahead!"

With plenty of scouts and team directors keeping a keen eye on the under 23 events, that career change may be in store even sooner than many would expect.