Mitch Docker enjoyed many of the benefits of cyclo-cross

'Cyclo-cross is great, I'm a convert' - A CX Q&A with Mitch Docker

We catch up with recently retired road pro Mitch Docker, who last winter headed to Belgium to find out why cyclo-cross has a reputation as the most fun hour of bike racing around

Clock09:51, Friday 20th October 2023

Last winter, we challenged recently retired road pro Mitch Docker to try out cyclo-cross. The Australian spent an intensive week in the home of the sport, Belgium, learning from the biggest stars of CX – Sven Nys, Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) and Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) among others – before entering a proper race.

The result was the There Will Be Mud documentary, an entertaining plunge into the deep end of cycling’s muddiest discipline. To go behind the curtain on the film, we caught up with Docker to reflect on his experience of filming and racing in Belgium.

Watch There Will Be Mud on GCN+ now.

GCN: How much did you know about cyclo-cross before undertaking this project?

Mitch Docker: I didn’t know heaps about cyclo-cross before, no. I’d never ridden it, and the closest thing I’d done was some gravel racing in Australia, but I quickly found out that it’s definitely not the same thing!

Read more: Ultimate guide to cycling in Melbourne

I was first introduced to ‘cross by my old teammate Jens Keukeleire in 2017. We were over racing in Québec and he said, ‘oh the CX season is starting!’ so we watched a few races together and to be honest I was like, ‘what the fuck is this thing?’. But then actually with the help of GCN+, I was able to get a bit more into it. A couple of years ago when my wife and I stayed in Europe over the winter I watched most of the races on the app that season. It was great.

GCN: What attracted you to try cyclo-cross?

MD: You can do cyclo-cross here in Aus in the winter. And actually, people have been asking me if I’d come down and do some races, but I said "oh those days are behind me now that I’m retired!". Then GCN came to me with the idea of actually learning how to do ‘cross and to be able to put it all into practice at a race. That was a big sell for me. The combo of that, without one or the other, I wouldn't have been as keen. But doing both was awesome.

GCN: During the film, you train with and learn skills from some big stars. What was the hardest part of it?

MD: Training with the Baloise Trek Lions and realising how fast they go through the corners… I think that moment there I realised, I don’t have the skills for this! Even though I’d been racing on the road all those years, it was so different. They were really fast, both the men and women. I couldn’t keep up with them, no way. Learning to bunny hop with Puck Pieterse was also really tough. I knew it was going to be hard but it was even harder than I thought, because it was a psychological test too. Those barriers are high…

GCN: What stands out most during that week of filming leading up to the race?

MD: One of the things that stands out the most was the cyclo-cross community – they were very welcoming. I was talking and doing all this stuff with the best in the business, and they were still so welcoming and happy to play around with me. I really enjoyed that. They made me feel like I wanted to be part of the scene.

GCN: You went to a Superprestige elite pro race during your week in Belgium. What was that like?

MD: It was great to get to a big race and watch as a fan. Everything we did for this film was like ticking off bucket list stuff. For example, I don’t even know if I’ll ever get to watch a ‘cross race live ever again! It’s hard for me to do that: it’s in the winter, I don’t live in Europe any more, and even when I was in Europe, I was rarely there in winter and was racing professionally so it never seemed really possible.

So to be able to actually do that and experience it and feel it was so cool. I know what people are talking about now. I’ve been there, I’ve felt the atmosphere, I’ve seen the course, I’ve seen the riders up close.

GCN: How did you feel going into your own race?

MD: I was pretty nervous. I think that was evident! I was out of my depth. I knew I couldn’t just ride back onto the peloton if I got dropped. I was nervous of the unknown: what it was going to feel like, how deep I was going to have to go, how quickly I might get dropped, how much damage I would do to my ego...

GCN: What was it like to do a ‘cross race in the home of the sport?

MD: You’ve got to do a race in Belgium. Even at that little level I did it at, being in the locker rooms and talking to the guys I’d raced against and understanding the culture was amazing. I guess it was like club cricket or football in Australia, where it’s part of their life.

One guy I was with was just a dad who would come down and race on the weekend, and his son races in the junior race. Then they go home. It’s just part of their life – I love feeling the grassroots stuff. And you’ve got to feel what it’s like in the home country. The 'cross scene in Aus isn’t exactly the same…

GCN: Are you a cyclo-cross convert now?

MD: I don't know if I’ll race back home here in Australia yet. It’s still a bit too close to what I came from [road racing]. I can see in the future that I’ll get into it though. I love the simplicity of going out there and smashing it out for an hour. It’s not like doing a running race or hill climb, where the best, fittest guy wins. It’s hard, but the technical side of things is awesome and makes it fun. Yeah, bang for your buck, really… cyclo-cross is great. So I guess I am a convert, yeah!

You can check out Mitch's dalliance with cyclocross on GCN+ in the There Will Be Mud film, just click here to watch! Subscription required. You can also watch live cyclo-cross all this winter on GCN+, with the Superprestige in Overijse coming up this Sunday (territory restrictions apply).

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