Russell Mockridge – An Australian pioneer

Riders start the 1955 Tour de France

Riders start the 1955 Tour de France (Image credit: AFP)

By Les Woodland

For a country with such a small population – more people commute into London every day – Australia has turned out no small number of champions. Almost all of them with Irish names – Stuart O'Grady, Robbie McEwen and so on. However, they all owe much to a man with a more English name, the man who pioneered European ventures from Australia after the war: Russell Mockridge, who would have been 80 year-old in 2008.

I don't remember Russell Mockridge who passed away 50 years ago. I do remember his determination, though. He wrote a book about his racing experiences, and explained how determined he was to establish himself not just in French racing but also in France. He said he would study French until he could understand every word of horse-race commentaries on the radio. And he did. If you can do that in another language, you can truthfully say you're fluent.

His fellow citizen and Tour de France rider Sir Hubert Opperman described him as "the most versatile cyclist Australia had produced ... no other cyclist in his experience had been gifted with such a level of overall cycling talent."

On September 13, 1958, Mockridge had just started the Tour of Gippsland. It was a 225-kilometre race beginning in Melbourne. Like most Australian races of the time, it was a handicap. Mockridge, the greatest rider in the country, was in the last group to leave. He was notoriously shortsighted but it's hard to imagine he didn't see the bus coming towards him. He had covered less than four kilometres. Mockridge died at just 30 years old.

A strange man, Mockridge. He was not your usual rider. He went to the elite Geelong College, and he was torn between becoming a journalist or a priest. His accent, his education and the distracted way he peered through thick glasses led others to call him Little Lord Fauntleroy. Not that he needed to worry too much about them because he bowled through the field to win the first race he ever rode.

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