In this second post in our series following young high performing Armidale Cycling Club riders, we talk to Mitch Bullen who at only 22 years old has already achieved outstanding success on the track at both national and international level. In 2013 Mitch won gold at the national sprint championships and backed that up with gold again in the team sprint which he also won again in February this year. He was also part of the Australian team that was 3rd in the Track World Cup in Mexico and 4th in the UCI World Championships in 2013. With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow now not too far away, Mitch took time out to talk with us, share some of his early cycling stories and give us an insight into his world.
Mitch entered his first proper track race in Coffs Harbour when he was 14 years old. He’d been racing at club level and training with Armidale Cycling Club for a while before that under the influence of his dad Mark and of course Mark’s dad, Jock. Mark made sure Mitch didn’t get ahead of himself in the early days and that first event was a handicap so Mark raced on the track with him. “I had enough start to win the Melbourne Cup in that race and there was a girl just in front of me. I was told if she beat me then dad would throw the bike away” Mitch recalls. “So she didn’t beat me and I was fortunate enough to win the race (nothing against girls)!”
So when did Mitch realise he wasn’t just a handy club rider, but someone who could win the big races and compete at a much higher level? There was never a real conscious decision made to focus on the track says Mitch, “I probably just followed in the Bullen family footsteps. Dad was a sprinter as was Jock but in the early days we raced everything – road, track, and all events. I was lucky enough to win the club Mt Yarrowyck 100k road race off scratch. I can’t say I loved the road but I did it until I could work out what my strengths as a bike rider were and then I moved towards track.”
Curiously enough, being born in December put Mitch at a disadvantage in the early years. With the season starting in January he always had to race older kids, but clearly not lacking in motivation he channeled that positively which made him tougher and in his first year as an Under 19 things really started to fall into place. He was still racing in all formats at this stage and with the strong support of his family he travelled around, entered a lot of carnivals and won a lot of handicaps. “I picked up one that is really close to my heart that year – the Cliff Hazell Memorial Wheelrace in Dubbo which I was lucky enough to win again this year (2014) and as Mrs Hazell presented me with the trophy and sash she was moved to tears, saying how proud her husband Cliff would have been to witness the race and me winning. That was pretty special.”
Back in those early days of U19 races Mitch spent a good chunk of time in Queensland, he recollects “I went pretty well up there winning most of the events I went into, and then the following year we were invited to Bundeberg and I picked up the Bundy Cup so it was a good couple of seasons.” After that Mitch went to the state championships and picked up a silver in the scratch race and also in the sprint. At this point he was gravitating towards track sprinting and the following season started working with Sean Eddie at which point he put all his focus on sprint work.
Fast forward to today and the main focus for Mitch is the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but he has plenty of aspirations beyond that. “I would love to go to Rio and obviously win medals at world cups and world titles and cement my spot in the National High Performance team for the next few years.” Mitch already recognises the 2018 Commonwealth Games (back in Australia at the Gold Coast) being an exciting future prospect – “to race in your own country at such a prestigious event would be an excellent experience…” however he can obviously still hear Mark’s words from that Coffs Harbour race ringing in his ears as he adds “but that is all down the track a bit”.
As with all high performance athletes, Mitch is extremely conscious of what he eats. “The coaches always look at skin folds, weight, measurements etc and your diet has to have a very good balance so you have the weight to power ratios to do the work both on the bike and in the gym. The coaches have a lot of targets that we have to hit to progress. Our diets have a balance of proteins, carbs as well as a lot of other stuff but in general we watch what we eat to maintain our body weight and skin folds.” And it starts first thing in the morning when Mitch eats, not 5, not 10 but 15 Weetbix for breakfast…
Mitch still makes appearances at ACC Junior events when he can and when asked if we might see him on Long Swamp for a club race again one day he doesn’t hesitate to answer. ” I love coming back home to Armidale, I have always had the philosophy that I don’t forget where I came from and I always try to get back to the juniors”. And he didn’t rule out jumping into a club race provided we all agree to a bunch sprint finish. Mitch might be going from strength to strength but some things clearly never change as he adds, “another stipulation is that Kirky has duct tape put over his mouth for the whole race!”
Thanks to Mark Gunter Photography for kindly letting us use the above image of Mitch.