What do you do when you retire from a career you love after 15 years? Keep doing it in retirement, of course
Interview JACK LYNCH
Photography PAUL SPURLING / SUPPLIED
Mitch Docker’s first guest on his inaugural Life in the Peloton podcast in 2016 was GreenEdge teammate and fellow Aussie, Luke Durbridge.
In his intro, Docker says to the audience: ‘It’s the first one, so let’s see how it goes and I hope you enjoy.’
Looking back now, it sounds like he was hedging his bets. Always a popular rider on and off the bike, Docker was putting himself out there, interviewing other pros to get their perspective on… well, life in the peloton. But was there an audience for that?
Did he have the time to commit?
Would other riders want to get involved in his project? Fast forward to the end of 2023 and Life in the Peloton is a ritual for hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
It’s downloaded by about 1.5 million people annually with the US, UK and Australia accounting for about 90% of the audience.
Docker’s now more confident in his delivery, his audio gear has vastly improved and his production is slick.
Having retired in mid-2021, the side project is now a full-time job. The show is no longer just about life in the pro peloton, but life on two wheels, following Docker on whatever cycling path he travels while keeping a close eye on the WorldTour calendar.
‘I’m just creating my own journey, more or less,’ Docker says from his home in Lancefield, Victoria.
‘If I decide I want to do an adventure, I’ll do that and I’ll make it work into a story for the podcast.
I’ll invite some guests along and we’ll make a cool trip out of it.’
Ditching the grind
It’s a luxurious job, and Docker acknowledges this, but it’s not easy.
Retired athletes often struggle to adapt to a less structured world, one free from training and race schedules, diet constraints, doping control and fulfilling the team’s contractual obligations.
These things can extinguish the love of a sport, particularly one as physically demanding as cycling, but Docker never lost the flame – he’s just hungry for more diverse experiences.
‘When I retired, I wasn’t passionate about racing anymore, but I realised that I was still passionate about bikes,’ he says.
‘I didn’t know what the next chapter was going to be and it took at least the first year to work that out.’
The podcast rolled on through this year and evolved as Docker did. He began entering various local events in Australia – often gravel races – and immediately saw cycling in a different light.
He loves the enjoyment people get from being on two wheels, pushing themselves but not taking things too seriously.
Docker wants to be part of the amateur and recreational cycling scene and discover what he calls ‘everyone’s different peloton.’
He’s still way faster than you or me – don’t be confused about that – but he knows his place in cycling isn’t to be the fastest, but to be what those around him need him to be.
‘I’m trying to inspire people to go out and do different things, whether that’s events or small adventures, or bike packing trips or whatever,’ he says.
‘I hope that by listening to the podcast, they’re educated about the WorldTour but they’re also inspired – to steal a quote from Rapha – to live life by bike.’
Listening, learning together
One of Docker’s favourite episodes of the more than 130 he’s published is talking mountain bikes with some off-road legends, including MTB pioneer Ned Overend and, arguably the greatest cross-country rider of all time, Nino Schurter.
This came ahead of Docker’s attempt at the ‘Tour de France of mountain-biking’ – the Cape Epic in South Africa.
He asked some relatively basic questions of Schurter like, ‘Would you rather be first position and seeing a single track or behind someone to follow a line?’and ‘Do you ride with a dropper post or not?’
These questions informed him of his decisions at Cape Epic (where he ultimately won the amateur race with partner and former pro, Ian Boswell) and brought his predominantly roadie audience along with him.
Conversations where Docker leads his subject with relatively novice questions are his trademark.
His method is to ask well-informed subjects basic questions and receive genuine and well-thought-through responses.
It has endeared him to his audiences of both experienced cycling fans and those new to the sport. ‘No one in the town I live in rides, it’s not a popular sport,’ he says.
‘But a lot of people see my van, which has Life of the Peloton written all over it, who’ll be playing cricket on the weekend, and they’re like: ‘What’s this bloody van you’ve got, mate?’
They’re now listening to the podcast and are sayingto me next time I see them: ‘I heard that episode with Lael Wilcox the other day, she’s a bloody madman!’
And that’s awesome that everyone’s getting into it, so I try to remember not everyone’s a diehard fan when recording.’ Always riding, always thinking Docker was speaking with Cyclist during the off-season of the Life in the Peloton podcast.
The European winter was closing in and with it comes the natural conclusion to WorldTour racing and a break for much cycling media.
Despite this, he’s already working on content to grow his podcast and his accompanying website.
In October, Docker ran a 50km ultramarathon on Victoria’s Surf Coast around Anglesea, an experience he enjoyed because of the challenge of something new and finding a different peloton: a tribe of runners.
Next year, he’ll once again attend the Tour Down Under and capture behind-the-scenes interviews with people he has a genuine rapport and mutual respect with – it’s not a standard know-it-all media interview with rehearsed athlete responses.
Following this, there will no doubt be some chaotic adventures on two wheels, pushing the boundaries with friends and likeminded cyclists with massive engines.
He’ll also catch up with hundreds of amateur riders who will teach him a little more about the local scene and help him connect with the community.
Docker is an easy guy to like and his charm has helped carve out a bespoke media career.
His work strengthens the cycling community and is genuinely interesting for all sports fans.
The ongoing challenge for Docker will be to keep broadening his audience, living his life and having a great time on and off the bike.
But, for now, his post-athlete career would be the envy of many retirees. You can listen to Life in the Peloton on Spotify, Apple or anywhere you get quality podcasts.