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Rapha + Outdoor Voices - Meet the Rider: Jen Whalen

Meet the Rider: Jen Whalen

Our recent road trip with Outdoor Voices was a celebration of women at all levels of the sport. A cyclist for as long as she can remember, Jen talks to us about her relationship with the sport, tells us why she quit racing and shares her ambition to ride every single stage of the Tour de France.

Many months have passed since Jen and three other cyclists came together on our Californian road trip, but to her it feels like yesterday. “Just this week I saw a red VW camper just like the one we had on the trip,” she says. “I pictured the other girls driving, the van breaking down and struggling up the hills. That trip was a joyous time.”

Asked for her specific highlight of the four-day dash across the desert, she struggled to decide but was unequivocal about what had made the trip. “It was the girls’ personalities, for sure. We were all quite different but quickly learned how to laugh together, and laugh hard.”

Much has changed since then and Jen, just like everyone else, has had to adapt her plans. Last year, she became one of just three women from the US to be selected to join the Internationelles – a women’s group that campaigns for gender equality in sport – on a ride designed to highlight cycling’s inequalities.

“The plan is to do every stage of the Tour de France before the men as a statement and a protest at the inequalities that continue to hold the women’s side of the sport back,” Jen tells us in a matter of fact tone that betrays her disbelief that such inequalities persist.

“The organisers of the Tour are infamous for refusing to run an equivalent women’s race so doing the ride the day before the men is a particularly strong statement,” she continues. “Back in the 80s, they had a Tour for women but since then they haven’t had anything until three or four years ago when La Course was created.”

“The plan is to do every stage of the Tour de France before the men as a statement and a protest at the inequalities that continue to hold the women’s side of the sport back,”

No matter how just the cause however, no ride is exempt from the restrictions that have wiped out cycling events around the world this year. The Tour de France itself remains a doubt after French ministers banned sports events until September. Amongst all the calendar chaos, Jen is unsure of where this leaves her and the rest of the group.

“I know the Internationelles want to go forward with it but if we do ride the Tour this year, the message is going to be changed because we’re riding in the aftermath of an apocalypse. It can no longer be just about women’s equality. The message must be broader – a celebration of everyone being able to ride again mixed in with our original inequality message. That original issue is still going to be there unfortunately.”

Just as women’s cycling has suffered regression at the very top level, so too was Jen’s amateur racing career constricted by a lack of funding and support. “When I was racing, the Women’s Cycling Association formed and Billie Jean King got behind it. Women’s cycling had momentum and it was so exciting, but then it just got pushed back.”

“There wasn’t enough radical reform so a lot of people, including me, lost patience,” she sighs. “That’s partly why I stopped racing because it just felt like it was an invisible sport and the people who had the power to give it visibility refused to. That beat me down for a while.”

“That’s partly why I stopped racing because it just felt like it was an invisible sport and the people who had the power to give it visibility refused to.”

Since hanging up her racing wheels, Jen has engaged with cycling in a different way, channelling the childhood exuberance that made her fall in love with the sport in the first place.

“When I was a kid I begged my parents for a chrome BMX for my birthday and luckily for me, they obliged. Since then I’ve been obsessed. To begin with I was just trying to be like my brother. We were out riding all the time as we grew up in a different time from now when you could ride around the neighborhood and come back with a muddy face for dinner.”

“Later, I discovered street races and got really wrapped up in the alleycat racing scene. Then when I moved out to California, I experienced riding in the mountains and cycling became my life. It got the point where I was treating my career like a part time job. I was so obsessed and I still am, but in a different way. It’s the next chapter.”

“I’ve been riding more MTB and gravel because I’m no longer worried about ruining my season with a crash. It’s a much more fun way to ride. I’m still training for the Tour but I’m not sure that it will happen. It’s kind of hard to stay focused and delusionally stick to the training programme. Still, the roads are open and they are quiet right now, so riding has been really nice.”

In fact, Jen is readying herself for another ride as we speak to her. Before she heads out, we ask her what her advice is to people who are just getting into cycling, perhaps as an escape from the current situation. Above all else, she preaches pragmatism and patience.

“Cycling is one of few things in life that can make you feel as though you’re flying. If you haven’t experienced that feeling yet, then stick with it. That’s the reason to ride.”

“You might fall while learning to use clipless pedals,” she admits honestly. “I did and I have a little scar from eating it in a parking lot. But later down the line, cycling is one of few things in life that can make you feel as though you’re flying. If you haven’t experienced that feeling yet, then stick with it. That’s the reason to ride.”

And with that Jen departs for her ride. Unsure as to whether she’ll be able to attempt her ambitious goal, she is content enough with being able to ride at all.

WHAT JEN WORE...

Rapha + Outdoor Voices Jersey

“My favourite item is the jersey. It’s worthy of being worn in a race with technical fabrics and features but it’s also relaxed with the terrazzo design that combines so well with the rest of the collection.”

Buy now

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