Wandering around the start line at the recent Tour of Guangxi, there is a lightness to the atmosphere. Maybe it’s the mix of febrile anticipation of the off-season. Maybe it’s the expected lethargy at the end of another cycling year nearly in the books. Or maybe it’s the fact that 12 of the riders, nearly 10 per cent of the peloton here, hail from Australia and New Zealand. And not just that, but a number of them are mullet-sporting Australasians.
The mullet is, has been, and always will be, a statement piece. You are not walking into corporate offices ready to start cracking skulls with a mullet on your head. You are not leading a country’s government, performing serious surgery, or arguing a case in court with the top part of your head cut short while the hair towards your neck flows freely, lapping against your shoulders.
When you choose this style you’re declaring yourself a certain sort of person, or at least a sort of person you aspire to be. Laid-back, one to not take life too seriously. “Hey,” you’re saying follically, “I’m a chill guy.” Business on top (if absolutely necessary), and a big ol’ party at the back.
At least that’s the view from the non-mullet populous. But with so many mane men here at my disposal, why not get some answers straight from the horses’ mouths?
“If you go back to Australia, everyone’s got one,” Alpecin-Deceuninck sprinter Jensen Plowright confirms. “If you’re between the ages of 15-25 you’ve got a mullet. All of the schoolboys have them.”
Rudy Porter, a slip of a man, 22 years old and in his neo-pro year with Jayco-AlUla, seems to be the quiet type but a burgeoning mullet says more than words ever could. Rudy, tell us, what is there to mullet culture? What is it all about?
“Jensen’s right,” Porter answers. “I think it’s definitely the Australian/New Zealand influence coming into the peloton. I think it’s Australian rules football, it’s pretty much Australia’s biggest sport, and a lot of the players even going back to the 80s … it was very big, like a proper mullet like Shane’s. And then it’s come back into fashion in this day and age and obviously every young kid in Australia watches Australian rules football so it’s come through.”
Plowright, 23 and at the start of a three-season contract with his Belgian team, has had his mullet for about five years, so has been a committed mullet-head (mullet-er? mullet-ee?) for a while, seeing the style resurge and go from strength to strength. But at Alpecin-Deceuninck, he stands alone. How does that make him feel?
“I think the bosses are a bit confused about it, a bit concerned,” Plowright admits, half-joking. “I don’t think anyone’s got one here [at the team], I think I’m the only one but hopefully in the next few years it will start catching on.”
Surely, with a shampoo sponsor, the mullet is the perfect, attention-grabbing cut for a brand searching for a spokesmodel heir to Marcel Kittel and his boy-band coif? I can just see Mathieu van der Poel recreating the advert where he says “why do I use Alpecin? Because I want to keep my hair,” while flicking his locks around like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Plowright achieved his first WorldTour top-10 finish on Guangxi’s opening stage; how much of that performance can he put down to his hair?
“I think it plays a particular role in my confidence and aggression,” Plowright says, again with a smile. “It gives people a bit of a nerve and they definitely get out of the way.”
Does Porter agree that the mullet can inspire confidence? “Maybe not so myself, I think it’s probably just Jensen himself in general, I don’t think it’s his mullet.”
The ears of Shane Archbold, grandfather of peloton mullets and who is at the final race of his career in Guangxi, also prick up when I mention Plowright’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion.
“I’d love for you to do an interview with me and him together, and let him say that to my face because he doesn’t have an edge, he just thinks that.”
Archbold, who led the charge solo for many years on the mullet front, has a more rounded history of the haircut.
“If you go to Catalunya, where I live in Girona, it’s the number-one hairstyle by far,” he says.
“The Catalans with the, let’s say, the rougher-looking dogs, the shaven sides of their head, the ear piercings and the mullets. It’s pretty popular … I’d say it’s more popular in Catalunya, but it’s definitely a thing in Australia, the surf scene or the skateboard scene, the bogan car-driving scene in New Zealand and Australia, there are a lot of them.
“I don’t know if I’m influencing it within cycling but for sure 20 years ago you had Laurent Fignon and the like … but they were still clean-cut, respectable, the peloton has a lesser dress code which suits me just fine.”
Now that Archbold is moving out of the Lycra and behind the driver’s seat to becomes a sports director with Bora-Hansgrohe, does he think his mullet’s days are nearly over?
“I hope not, I think Ralph [Denk, Bora-Hansgrohe boss] has known me for enough years. He knows hopefully I’ll mature slightly but I think most of my mannerisms will stay the same and I think the mullet … I’m undecided,” he pauses. “Maybe it will go off and come back, I’m not sure, I may as well make the most of it while I can because it won’t last forever … but we’ll see.”
So, with Archbold retiring, is it up to Plowright and Porter to fly the hairy flag?
“I think so,” Porter says of whether his modest mullet may need some extra attention in order to fill the vacuum that will be left by Archbold’s. “Cyrus Monk who rides for Q36.5 is leading the charge after Shane retires. He’s got a pretty filthy one going at the moment so we’ll have to get up to Cyrus’ level eventually … but we’ll just take it day by day.”
For Plowright, not at an Australian team like Porter, where the mullet is more understood, does he worry for the day his contract renewal comes up and the Roodhooft brothers suggest it’s time for their Australian fast man to mature and get a sensible style, like the rest of the well-behaved Belgian boys on the team?
“At the moment it would cost a bit I reckon,” he says when asked to imagine the figure that would have to be given in order for him to contractually shave off the mullet.
“But,” he relents. “It’s going to have to happen one day.”
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