A long interview with one of Australian cycling’s most charismatic riders. Mitch Docker talks about changing teams, parenthood, the future of media, and “that crash” from Paris-Roubaix 2016.
Two days after Mitch Docker returned to Australia from his European base(s) he was out riding his bike. He was at the end of his tenure with the GreenEdge team – ie. Orica-Scott (in 2017), Michelton-Scott (in 2018) – and he had joined a training camp with riders from the Drapac-Pats Veg.
Next year Docker will race with a jersey carrying the logo of a company that helped him become a professional rider. ‘Drapac’ is part of the title of the team he has signed up with after six seasons on the GreenEdge roster. He is one of the new recruits for the newly named EF Education First-Drapac team (that’s “powered by Cannondale”).
It’s something of a fresh start for the charismatic rider who has long danced around the periphery near the top of Australian road cycling. The 31-year-old has only two pro wins to his credit (both in 2010, neither in big races) but he is reliable, determined and a key ally for those on his team.
There’s a reason why Docker was part of the nine-man line-up for the Australian team at the world championships in Bergen earlier this year when other more obvious candidates were overlooked as part of the support cast for bronze medallist, Michael Matthews. He is loyal, a true asset in pro cycling.
Docker’s career almost came to a gory conclusion in April 2016 on the day that Orica-GreenEdge (as it was known at the time) scored one of its biggest victories. Mathew Hayman would go on to win Paris-Roubaix; in his wake were a tally of men who fell victims to the cobbles. Docker was one of them. And the ramifications of his face-plant in the Forest of Arenberg would be long lasting.
“Something I realise when I look back at that crash is: you don’t get a lot of time, if you are riding for a number of years, to really assess everything,” he explains in RIDE’s interview with him in early December 2017.
“The crash allowed me to sit down and go, ‘Hey, this thing is pretty traumatic. Do you still want to do this? Do you really want to put yourself at that risk with the family?’”
His answer is: yes – he still wants to race. He loves what he does and believes that he has more to offer his sport before retiring. That said, he is thinking about what comes next… and it’s likely that he’ll follow the path of his older brother, Kirk, who is firmly entrenched in the media world.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to ride his bike with a focus on the Classics of April while being a loyal team-mate, as well as a husband and father. His son, Marlow, is now 10 months old and while Docker loves his cycling it’s clear that family is, obviously, the most important thing in his life.
We present this interview as we often do at RIDE Media, as a verbatim transcript. We jump from one topic to the next and cover a range of subjects and Docker’s perspective is fresh, often fun, sometimes considered, sometimes irreverent.
Read the transcript of RIDE’s exchange with Mitch Docker from 5 December 2017 below.
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Mitch Docker and Travis Meyer in the madison at the Sydney track World Cup on 2 December 2007. They raced in the Drapac-Porsche colours 10 years ago and, in 2018, Docker will be back under the Drapac banner… as part of the WorldTour peloton.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
RIDE: I’ve got Mr Mitch Docker on FaceTime. He’s back in Australia just recently and [is] up in Bright doing a training camp with Drapac-Pat’s Veg… which is sort of like a homecoming of sorts. You started your cycling career with a Drapac jersey, didn’t you?
Mitch Docker: “I did. And it feels nice coming back around the circle. It’s been actually very eye-opening here with the boys because we had a chat last night to one of the guys from Crossing The Line who works with athletes making that jump from professional sport back into normal life.
“He was talking to the boys about it and I thought, ‘Yeah… how many of these guys are really taking this in?’ They’re typical young 20-somethings – the, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah – I just want to be pro…’ type. That’s what I thought anyway. But then we went out riding and, talking to the guys, they really loved the concepts that were being raised. They got it. And that’s what they want to do.
“They’re all at uni and I felt at home because I could tell them my story; that that’s what I did. And it was nice because the boys understood it and they respected it.
“Often I used to tell that story and a lot of guys were sort of wondering why or were like, ‘whatever’.
“It really did feel nice to be back here with a similar crowd who have the same sort of likeminded thoughts as me.”
You’ve done a switch and you’re jumping off the Scott bike and leaving Orica-Scott and going on towards what’s going to be known as ‘EF Education First-Drapac powered by Cannondale’.
“Well done; the team name is a bit of a mouthful.”
It’s a change of teams, a change of direction… 31 years old, your tongue is back together, your lips are all mended and you’re ready to go, is that right?
“I am. It is. And it was time for a team change. I had a great time at Orica and from six years there I learnt so much and actually grew a lot as a rider.
“I think back to my first year there… talking to the boys here last night and they were like, ‘Were you with the team at the start of it in 2012?’
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I was.’
“I think back to then, compared to what I am now – you don’t notice it over those years – but jeez, I was learning things all the time!
“At the start I was trying to be a lead-out man with all my heroes really. You know: [Stuart] O’Grady and Allan Davis and [Robbie] McEwen, and I did grow a lot there but it came to an end this year.
“I was ready for a new challenge and a new direction and, already being here at this training camp – and doing a few things for the [new] team over in Europe – feel it was the right move for me at this point in my career.
“And I feel excited again about the small things so it’s great so far.”
Docker was part of the Orica-GreenEdge line-up that won the opening stage, a TTT, of the Giro d’Italia in 2014.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Six years. It’s the equivalent to high school and a lot of people come of age in that time. You did your degree before joining the [pro peloton]. What’s was it?
“It’s in food science. So, food science and nutrition.”
Tell me about graduating from your ‘second high school’.
“It was very sad to leave [Orica-Scott] because I have a lot of good friends there. I started with Skil-Shimano in Holland and I learnt a lot there (2009-2011). Coming in at Orica, it was the start of a new Australian team and it was very exciting to be a part of that through to what it’s become.
“But I understand; the team is going in a different direction now and really focussing on trying to win the Tour de France and doing the Grand Tours. And, sad as it was to say goodbye, I was very inspired to move to another team that had a scope that was suited to me – with the lead-outs and also the Classics.
“Also, I think, mixing with a few of the riders, it is a team that’s suited to my personality as well. That’s exciting.”
And you’ll remain based in Girona?
“I will, yes.
“I’m sort of up in Andorra as well.”
A bit of the sea life and a bit of the mountain life… a combination for your son Marlow?
“Yeah, it’s the best of both worlds I think. When he’s sick of the noise in Girona, we take him up to the mountains and he sleeps like a baby up there until he gets sick of the altitude and then we switch back down to the low level.”
On that topic, let’s just consider that for a moment. How do you think it affects a nine-month-old kid? Do you think that he can feel the altitude? Is it that kind of extreme?
“Some people have said that about their kids. Brett Lancaster took his little daughter up there when she was only young – she must have been only two months old – and they swore that she was going nuts in the altitude. They left early.
“So, I was a little bit worried with Marlow but we lived in a street in Girona above a nightclub and people would get out there in the morning after a big night and they’re yelling and screaming. It’s pretty loud and he’s grown up in gritty loud environment. And then when we get up to Andorra, it’s dead quiet.
“I think the quietness outweighs the altitude and he does sleep very well up there.”
Going on your experience, should he sleep better when the air is thinner…?
“I think it’s a personal thing because… like, I do. I sleep very well at altitude, but my wife doesn’t go very well. She has to do acclimatisation up there. She doesn’t go very well the first few days – and then eventually sleeps well afterwards.
“What I think is good at altitude, is everyone loves sleeping in a cool environment. And it’s always that little bit colder up there, even in summer. The temperature does drop down in the night and I think that helps for sleeping well… and being quiet and dark. There’s no heaps of light up there on the side of the mountain. All those things lead to a good sleep.”
It’s funny that we’re talking about nine-month-old kids and how you sleep when what brought us together is cycling. I’m going back for my 20th Tour Down Under in January. I haven’t missed a stage since the race began and it was in stage three of 2006 that you and I first met. You were in a breakaway with the United Water team; you crashed and it was all violent and bloody. You’re going to be back in January, is that right?
“I am, yeah. But good memory. I would never have remembered what stage or what year that was off the top of my head. But that was a good moment; I hadn’t really been interviewed much at that point in my career and you came up and, yeah sure, you were getting an interview I remember, but you were actually a bit more concerned for my health.
“I don’t remember having many people around me. But they got me to the hospital and from then on you and I sort of had a little bond.
“It’s funny, going back to the Tour Down Under, it’s been a few years since I’ve been there so I’m looking forward to doing that – getting back there, getting in the hype… it’s been six years since I’ve been there so the race has probably grown a hell of a lot since then.”
The United Water team and the Tour Down Under in 2006 – from left to right (above): Will Walker, David Tanner, Mitch Docker, Sam Lee, Wes Salzberger, Richard Moffatt, Josh Wilson and Matt Rex.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Will there be ambitions for you in January or are you going to pace yourself? You’re more of an ‘April Man’. How do we categorise you as a bike rider these days?
“I am, I’m an April Man. I’m a Classics man. But, look, Down Under is Down Under and I’m an Aussie so you’re never going to go there creeping but I’ve got to keep in the back of my mind, ‘Hey, April is my time…’ or March/April. So, I want to go there with good condition.
“It’s the first outing with the team and you want to represent well there but you’ve got to keep things under control and keep the real goal in sight which, for me, is the Classics. So it’s juggling that. And it’s been a while since I tried to juggle that so it’s going to be interesting. I think it’s only going to be a good experience, I think.”
It seems odd to talk about April in December but the last time we did a proper interview was when you were just coming back from that horrific accident [in Paris-Roubaix, 2016]. Is everything is normal for you now, except for the scar on your lip? Are you all – ah, how would you say – ‘dentally repaired’?
“I am. I was just speaking about the dental work recently. And everything is very good there. I just had a check-up before I came home and everything is fine.
“It’s funny, I was speaking to a [future] team-mate – Brendan Canty – as we were driving up to Bright. We were talking about ‘That Crash’ and it really was a pivotal point in my career, I think…
“I don’t know if we covered this at the time but something I realise when I look back at that crash is: you don’t get a lot of time, if you are riding for a number of years, to really assess everything. I felt, at that point, seasons were rolling into one another and one contract was rolling into another. I say that as though it was easier than it was but, to a degree, I didn’t really sit down and work out: did I really love it?
“Or, if I was doing this, why was I doing it?
“The crash allowed me to sit down and go, ‘Hey, this thing is pretty traumatic. Do you still want to do this? Do you really want to put yourself at that risk with the family?’
“It was a good chance to really assess where I was at in my career and if I wanted to go on.
“And, if I was going to go on, how was I going to do it?
“I really do feel that things have changed a lot since then. Mentally I’ve definitely changed as a rider and the way I approach the training and the races.
“It’s just like, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s really give it all.’
“It’s not that I wasn’t but it’s just got a bit more emphasis now because I realise those crashes can happen and if I’m going to put myself in that situation, why not go there with no stone unturned?”
My reference to the Tour Down Under came out of the blue but the point is: I’ve watched you evolve from junior through to what you are now as a seasoned veteran in the pro ranks. You’ve talked to me about considering life after cycling. Although you’ve got the degree in nutrition, I imagine that you’re going to end up in the media space. What do you imagine doing?
“I do too. I have entertained the idea and something I would love to do is some commentary. I feel like that would be great to do. Whether that is a career path, I don’t know.
“I would love to be involved in that somehow and work with Matty Keenan or with McEwen at some point but…
“I was talking about nutrition recently and said, ‘If I went back into that field I would almost have to go back and re-do the whole course…’ or take a new course because 10 years later a lot changes in that industry and you lose touch with what’s going on.
“What I learnt out of that degree was not necessarily the degree but just being there at uni was a great life experience.
“What will I do after cycling? You know, I’ve got the podcast (Life in the Peloton) up and running and it’s something that I enjoy. My brother’s work in the media has opened my eyes up to that field and it’s something that, I guess, either comes naturally to you or not.
“Just by pursuing a few little things you realise, ‘Yeah, I really enjoy it and I’m okay at doing it…’ so maybe that could be an opening there, somewhere.”
Kirk Docker is your brother. He’s been doing all sorts of media. He came into the ABC spectrum by auditioning for a role in… what was the original TV series?
“It was called The Hungry Beast.
“It was by Andrew Denton’s production company.”
And then [Kirk] started doing a series of interviews…
“Well, he’s done two series: it’s called, ‘You Can’t Ask That’. He’s actually filming the third series as we speak.
“It’s a show that interviews… I guess, what’s the right wording here? Just interesting people from different areas. Like it could be dwarfs or it could be suicide attemptees and really interesting people…
“Kirk has got a real knack of interviewing, he calls it ‘vox popping’ which is just straight up question and answer. He just gets some really good answers, some honest answers. His show is played on the ABC and got some really good responses. He’s won some amazing awards for the second series the Rose d’Or Award, over in Berlin he was presented as the best reality or factual entertainment program. In the media it was a very renown award and he’s finally getting the recognition for the work that he’s been doing for a lot of years, which is great.
“Anyone who has seen the show will know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s just a really gripping show.”
Docker, back in the Classics… back on the attack with Bert De Backer at the Ronde van Vlaanderen in April 2017 (above).
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Cycling is a sport that is born out of media coverage. How do you imagine media and cycling evolving in the next couple of years…?
“I think it’ll involve a lot more things, like the podcast. We’ve seen podcasts change or really develop. I was speaking to someone the other day and I was saying, ‘Oh, I was thinking of doing a blog… you know, a written blog.’
“And he was like, ‘But… why? No one reads that anymore.’ And that’s true.
“That’s changed with magazines and people going online and even to a degree now I don’t know how many people are even reading… I feel like it’s more movies now, it’s podcasts, it’s things that people can watch on their phone or listen to on their phone.
“I feel like that’s what people want now. They want a bit more stuff that they can listen to and watch. I feel like reading articles and stuff, it’s not dead but it’s changing.
“So that’s where I feel that that’s where it’s going to go – not that it’s not there now but… it’s going to continue in that way.”
We’re chasing an eclectic series of discussion points so I think that we’ve gotten to a point where I can talk to you about wine and ask if your tongue has mended sufficiently for you to have a taste for wine? And are you able to continue your sommelier degree?
“I am. Well, I haven’t gone to WSET 3 because that does actually take quite a lot of time and I’ll probably have to be back in Oz to do that. But, actually, Luke Durbridge has just completed his WSET 1, he just sent me a message the other day. He was shitting himself. He was like, ‘Oh, I think I’ve failed… I think I’ve failed!’
“So, I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that because at the moment I’ve still got a couple of courses over the top of him but if he gets this, I’m only one course ahead so I’m going to have to pursue WSET 3 maybe.”
Maybe we could come together and do some virtual tasting notes and try and get some bottles of wine and talk about them once in a while. RIDE Media could team up with Mitch Docker and we could create some kind of regular wine/cycling chat…
“There’s a podcast in that! I’ve talked about it before. You know, ‘Cyclists drinking wine’ there you go – there’s the title right there.”
Alright: I’m in. I hope that I can be the original interview – or interviewee? I’m not certain what would it be?
“Yeah, sweet. I’ll be up for it.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold