Two months following his final race of the year at the Tour of Beijing, Mitchell Docker is steadily building up for the coming season. The 26-year-old Australian was part of the Orica-GreenEdge squad that raced the NSW Grand Prix rounds at Cronulla and Wollongong and while he was just getting back into the swing of things, he says there was a noticeable difference to the way his legs felt since riding his first grand tour this year.
Docker was given his chance to ride this year's Vuelta a España and while he was somewhat disappointed with some of his own performances, despite assisting Allan Davis to multiple podium finishes throughout the race, he learned a lot. One of the biggest changes has been the flow-on effect from his first three-week race.
"I think I'm still getting some benefit from the Vuelta [a España]," said Docker to Cyclingnews. "You're still hurting like hell but not going backwards. It's a weird feeling," he said in regard to the NSW GP series.
Unfortunately for Docker his inaugural season with Australia's first ProTeam was brought to a halt before it began. A crash that occurred during a team training camp in January meant he officially started his season in May at the Tour of Norway. He missed his chance to reach his early season goals at the spring classics and that has made him more motivated for next year.
"I'm really looking forward to these early season goals. The [spring] classics are going to be my main focus. I'll be doing [Tour de] San Luis, Tour of the Mediterranean and Paris-Nice. They will all be in preparation. I'll still be racing well but with an eye towards the classics.
"The aim is to do Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix in a big supporting role. If I get my chance I'll take it - if they offer it to me.
"I didn't get the chance this year because I was injured and that was a big thing I was looking forward to. It was great at Skil, I got the opportunity to race but it's totally different now, I can imagine, going into these classics for the win as opposed to going for a great result like a top-ten.
"I'm really looking forward to the next step which is supporting a big rider. That's a totally different role," he said.
Supporting a team leader at some of the world's biggest one-day races is necessary if Docker wants aim for the win himself one day. Until that moment arrives he believes that having a team capable of victory will provide the best learning experience.
"With Orica-GreenEdge we are just going for the win. The whole team will be riding for that one or two riders and it's a different thing.
"You are going to get further in a race and learn so much more [riding in a support role]. For me, in the future if I want to go for a win at one of these big races I need to learn how to race for the win," Docker told Cyclingnews.
Docker was given the task as last man in the lead out for Davis at the Vuelta and it's a role he wants to continue to develop. The team's number-one sprinter Matt Goss has a solid support team for the races he targets but Docker says the team is concentrating on putting together a second squad to support some of the younger and upcoming fast men.
In 2013 Docker will form part of the group focused around Leigh Howard and new recruit Michael Matthews, who will transfer from Rabobank - now Blanco Pro Cycling - while Aidis Kruopis has also demonstrated his potential.
"Goss has a pretty good crew around him with [Brett] Lancaster and [Daryl] Impey, he's really feeling comfortable with those guys. The team is trying to build up another group around the other sprinters like Leigh [Howard], Michael Matthews and Aidis Kruopis - who's really turned into the kind of the sprinter the team hoped for and more. There's also Allan Davis who doesn't necessarily need a lead-out because he's the kind of rider who can fend for himself," Docker told Cyclingnews.
"We are trying to put together another lead-out train with me in the last-man role. Especially after the Vuelta, I took a lot of confidence from that. In a big race I know I can do the job. With a little bit more experience and guidance I think I can do the job really well. Looking up to guys like Impey and Lancaster as really good role models. I'm happy to work behind them and try and learn from them.
If this season goes to plan Docker will no doubt find himself at the Spanish grand tour which he believes is best suited to his development. Starting the Tour de France in 2013 is unlikely, however, Docker is not ruling anything out.
"I'd love to be back at the Vuelta. Unfortunately the Giro falls just after the classics which means I don't have the k's or the weight off. The Tour's the Tour and they are going to take the best guys there which I don't think I'm quite ready for but you never know what can happen. I'm definitely looking to the Vuelta again. It fits well and fits where I am in my career."