An interview with Lachlan Morton
At this time last year Lachlan Morton had won a stage of the Tour of Utah, wore the yellow jersey for two days at the US Pro Challenge and won the Youth Classification for both races at 21 years old. A year later he’s admittedly having “the worst season I’ve ever had” because of a combination of factors which he talks about below.
Earlier this year we published brothers Gus and Lachlan’s 2500km journey entitled “Thereabouts” from Port Macquarie to Uluru. Last week we featured their film documentary [see here] on the experience which gave new insights to the adventure.
Gus was well on his way but never continued along the path of being a pro cyclist, but Lachlan did. He turned professional with Garmin-Sharp at the beginning of last season and what struck me while watching the film is that Lachlan didn’t seem to care for the path he’d chosen. Even in the midst of a successful first pro season and a bright future ahead, he admitted that he thought about quitting mid-year.
I caught up with Lachlan to hear more about his thoughts on the brothers’ journey through the Outback, where is mind is at with pro cycling, and what’s going on with his season.
CyclingTips: How did you feel about the outcome of the ‘Thereabouts’ doco?
Lachlan Morton: It was cool. It was super-last minute to bring Scott in to film it. It was always just about the ride and after we finished we looked at the footage and thought perhaps we had some sort of story to throw together about five to ten minutes long. Then it became a lot more.
I left for Europe and didn’t see anything of the editing process, only the finished product. It was surprising. I didn’t think there was much of a story in it but I thought it turned out well. For me I just wanted to share my idea of bike riding with everyone else. Hopefully we can get something started so we can do more trips like that.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
The Oodnadatta track. It’s a stretch of road that’s 400km in length [ed. 680km] and it was basically a big dirt road that serviced the railroads out there. We rode about 180k of dirt and it was as remote as we got all trip. It was the most challenging day and I loved it. Purely because of the riding aspect. It was the most challenging but most beautiful day we had on the bike.
Off-the-bike, the night we had at the Murray put was pretty special.
Gus looked like he pulled up pretty well. Were you going easy on him?
He was surprisingly good. He’s an incredible athlete and I think it was two weeks before the ride I told him that if we’re going to do this he’d better be in some sort of shape. So we went for a ride in Sydney and we got 45 minutes into the ride and he was destroyed. We had to stop and he just limped home. A week later he was riding five hours in the rain with me. It didn’t take him long to get in the stride of things.
You gotta remember that when he stepped off the bike he was a professional, so his head when he’s riding is still at that level. He still knows how to suffer and how to deal with that constant discomfort. I think putting him in that environment helped. When you’re thrown into a bike race that you don’t even want to be at and suffering away, and you’re wondering why you’re even there in the first place it’s a lot harder to push through that and dig deep – especially when it’s not something you feel that strongly about or want to be there.
I think putting him in that environment where it was something he wanted to do – I don’t think he ever looked at bike riding in that way before. It made him able to push so much harder and deeper. There were some hard days in there too. I wasn’t holding back too much. Maybe in the first few days because I wanted to make sure we’d get to the middle of Australia, but in the end he was really strong. It was good to get in a few jabs while I could for old time sake [laughs].
Did you come out the other end of this trip looking at bike riding in a different way?
Yeah, last year riding my bike became so much of a job, so during the process of when you start bike riding and the five or six years…ten years…whatever it takes you get to the professional level, it slowly becomes something different. It’s not all of a sudden. For me it was last year where it crept up on me.
Looking back on what bike riding started out for me as, and what it had become was when I knew I had to get back to what I loved about it. It [the trip] refreshed my enthusiasm for it.
Now it’s easy for me to draw that line between what racing is and what riding is. Which i think is an important distinction for me. For some guys it’s different. For some guys racing is everything. The moment they stop racing they don’t see the need for the bike anymore. They live to race. But that’s not me. It’s opened my head up to other possibilities on the bike.
Cycling has always been a competitive thing…first you get into club racing and then you get into training for racing and that’s how it all started. The idea of using the bike as something different – for me I love to see new places and explore and meet new people. Using the bike as a tool for doing that was something I never really thought of before.
Now I have a big map in my apartment in Spain and I look around at all the possibilities and rides I want to do. On the top of my list is Patagonia, because it seems remote and relatively untouched. Stuff in America, Asia…there’s a lot I want to do. I get excited about that and it’s nice to have that in my head when I’m training and racing – it helps keep things in perspective a bit more.
Where is your mind at this season? The film said that you nearly quit in the middle of last season. Do you still think about quitting?
Yeah, every day. It’s and up and down sport. I haven’t had too many highlights this season. I’ve had a really shitty season. Probably the worst season I’ve ever had. Health and race program have been the two biggest things. I had an okay start to the year and made a few little mistakes and dug myself in a hole. Mistakes with training more-less.
I let it get a bit on top of me and I cruised around for a few months. The best thing for me to do when things are going bad is to step away from it and go back to basics. But I let it drag on and I’d lose it for a week, jump on a train to Paris, hang out, let it get too far behind, then come back and try to be a pro bike rider again. Then I’d get frustrated and jumped on a plane back to Australia, hang out there…I wasn’t very balanced this year.
I made a few changes and my girlfriend has moved over to Spain which has been a big thing for me. The past month I’ve been getting back to basics and just riding. I had big hopes for this month in the US races again, but that came crumbling down a few weeks ago when I couldn’t get a visa.
I’m enjoying riding my bike again this past month and we’ll see what happens. I’m also weighing up options for next year and trying to work out a way that I can bring more enjoyment into the racing side of things. Whenever I manage to do that I ride really well, but when I don’t, I don’t ride well.
What was key to your successes at this time last year?
It’s an environment thing. I put myself in Colorado and it’s a place where I just love to ride my bike. When you love doing it, the hard training is easy to do. You get up every morning and it doesn’t matter if you’re tired or the weather is shit…you just go out and do it because you know you’re in a place you love and you’re in a good mindset. Whereas when you’re in a spot where you’re not feeling it, you’re never really totally into it.
When you have a hundred things on your mind, there’s a hundred different things that bring you home back early. Your head is somewhere else. The frustrating thing for me is that I know exactly what I need to do, but I just need to organise things so that I can go and do them. But that’s life, isn’t it.
When you turned professional last year, was the life like you expected it? Or very different?
You always think you know what it’s going to be like. I started riding my bike when I was eight, and when I was twelve was when I knew I wanted to be professional bike rider. So you spend ten years chasing something and building it up in your head and all you see of it is watching the bike races on TV, so it’s always going to be different than what you think.
There’s always lots that go on behind the scenes and the racing is just a snapshot of it. A lot of ways the racing is the easy part, because you just gotta ride your bike. Also, I spent ten years chasing such a specific goal [a pro contract]. Whenever teachers at school asked me what I want to be I always said I was going to be a pro bike rider. Even if I wasn’t sure if that’s what was actually going to happen, it was always nice thing to say because I felt like I had some sort of purpose. But then you arrive to becoming pro and then you think ‘now what?’
So you have to reassess a bunch of different things and work out what and who you’re willing to sacrifice. Some people make that transition really quickly because their mindset doesn’t change, but for me it’s definitely taken some adjustment. The other thing is that you’re on the other side of the world. You’re not in your comfortable surroundings.
You said an interesting comment in Thereabouts (paraphrased), “I sometimes think I all of this would be easier without a girlfriend…then I realise I’m out of touch”
She laughed at that and knows exactly what I’m talking about. I still do the same shit now. I make a clear distinction between riding and training. When I’m training I have to have everything in order and I’m a bit OCD. I’m hard to deal with.
We spent last week training in Andora and I was training properly and it was the exact same thing. When I finish a training ride I was thinking “oh…now I’m going to have to have lunch with my girlfriend and walk around and go shopping [laughs].” I think I’m better off saying “I’m going off training in the mountains for a month and maybe you’re better off going and doing something else for a month because I’m going to be impossible to deal with.” [laughs]
If I want to be able to race fast that’s what I gotta do. It’s better for me to acknowledge this and work around it rather than do it all half-assed. I still have those battles daily.
Are you still motivated to win races and do you still get gratification from that?
Yeah, I do. That comes in waves. The thing is, it becomes more of a motivation the closer you become to attaining those goals.
If you find yourself riding quite well and you’re within a sniff of the action that’s totally motivating. When you come home from a race like that, instead of going out and having five or six beers that night and staying out late, you come home and get proper rest and train properly and things start to work.
I do get some enjoyment out of pushing myself to see how good you can get. But sometimes I just want to go out and ride my bike all day only have thoughts about where I want to go or see roads I haven’t seen. I try to structure my training around that. Even when I’m training full gas I do two days of specific training – intervals, power meters and all that sort of stuff – and my head is generally focused towards training. Then I have a day of endurance riding and doing whatever I want.
Do you see another Thereabouts trip this year and a future for the series?
I was having a conversation with Gus about this last week. It would be easy to force it in a direction and I don’t want to do that. I just want to see where it goes. When we decided to actually put a label on it as an idea, the biggest thing for me was hoping that people can take bike riding and make it something for them personally.
It doesn’t need to be something that’s clear cut or that ten people have done before them. Just use the bike as the tool it is and fit it in with your own life that you get fulfilment from. For me, the bike is the biggest pleasure you can have in life, it’s a tool to happiness. I just want people to see it for that, and not what it is for someone else. That’s the idea of it, for me anyway.
We’re going to do another trip in December of this year.