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It’s been a long and pretty unexpected twelve months. This time last year Lachlan Morton was approaching the end of his most successful season as a professional and one that identified him as a top talent for the future.
Just 21 years of age, he won a stage in the Tour of Utah, led the race and finished 14th overall. He then took second on day two of the USA Pro Challenge, wearing yellow for two days en route to fifth in GC. He also won the best young rider classification in both events.
The performances were deeply impressive for one so young, particularly as they highlighted the Australian’s climbing talent and ability to take on some of the world’s best riders without flinching.
Now, one season later, things look very different indeed. Last month Morton spoke frankly to CyclingTips about a season that didn’t go to plan which saw DNFs in the Tour Down Under, the Critérium International, the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour of Austria and the Clasica San Sebastian.
It was clear his motivation was waning. “It’s an up and down sport. I haven’t had too many highlights this season,” he admitted then. “I’ve had a really shitty season. Probably the worst season I’ve ever had.”
Morton stated that he has struggled with motivation and health issues, and also said that he didn’t stay on top of his race programme. His morale and focus oscillated and he was trapped in a vicious circle of getting frustrated with the bike and needing to take time away from it, then spending too long doing so and losing form.
Speaking again to CyclingTips this week, he said that he has now taken a decision about what path he would take. He revealed that he would be stepping back from the WorldTour in 2015, both to rediscover his racing mojo and also to be part of a push by his older brother Gus to return to the sport.
“I’m looking elsewhere – I want to have some fun racing next year,” Morton said, when asked if he hoped to remain with Garmin-Sharp or planned to do something else.
“I’m looking for a team that will have my brother and I. It’s my dream to race with him next year. I’d love to make that happen.
“I’m not really interested in the WorldTour for next year. I told my agent I wasn’t really interested in doing the same thing next year. I want to have some fun, maybe try some mountain biking, cross, fixed racing, anything to liven it up a bit. I’d like to be with a small team where everyone is important and valued.”
‘It’s a beautiful, extreme and challenging sport…but still just a sport’
Morton’s brother Gus competed at a high level with the Australian Drapac Porsche team between 2008 and 2010. He became disillusioned and retired from the sport, but took to cycling again after a four year gap during Lachlan’s off season. Together the duo completed the 2500km journey from Port Macquarie to Uluru, as documented in their “Thereabouts” feature.
That rekindled the bond between the duo, and also inspired Gus to return to the sport in a more serious manner.
“I want to make a comeback into racing, provided it’s in the right environment,” Gus told CyclingTips this week. “That being, racing alongside [Lachlan]. There are quite a few reasons that have combined together over the last twelve months to make me want to jump back in the ring.
“I think the first thing is I’ve kind of reconciled with cycling. It sounds very dramatic but I mean that in the sense that I no longer hold any of that baggage I did for much of the time I rode as a kid. Cycling was absolutely everything when I was growing up.”
He said that he invested totally in the sport to the exclusion of having a real job, working hard at school or spending time with his friends. Lacking balance, he said that this meant he couldn’t be objective about cycling and keep things in perspective.
“You have no life-gauge and you sure as hell ain’t listening to anyone around you,” he said, describing the obsessiveness that kind of laser focus can bring. “I think people underestimate how the physical affects the mental and vice versa. When you start to fear racing because you fear defeat, you begin to fear the training, you’re depressed, and you can’t handle the pressure, you don’t think “oh that’s my body telling me to cool it, get some rest and relax..” [Instead] you freak the f*ck out, close off, hide those emotions and push yourself deeper down the rabbit hole.”
Looking back, he accepts that he became burned out. He said that he can see signs of the same thing in his younger brother, but that his time away from the sport has given him a perspective that he hopes he can share. “It’s only now after four long years of doing other things that I have been able to finally look back on it all objectively, to be smart about it and see cycling for what it is: a sport, a beautiful, extreme and challenging sport but still just a sport.
“I want to be able help him arrive at that same spot. The knowledge that I can go and do something else, not be defined by my successes and failures in a competition is a really nice feeling and it’s what has pushed me want to ride again. Be that racing or slogging it around the world.”
Turning point for both
For Lachlan Morton, this moment represents a big crossroads. He’s got some choices ahead and knows that his life is taking a different direction than what he has known since joining Garmin-Sharp’s former development squad Chipotle Development team in 2011.
He’s been part of the Slipstream family since then, but is now in the final months of that relationship.
The year has been less rewarding than either party would have liked, but he says he is fully committed to finishing out the season as well as possible.
“I’ll race the Italian one day races Milano-Torino, Piemonte and Lombardia, then do Beijing,” he said. “I want to enjoy the racing and figure somewhere after the 200k mark in Lombardia. It would be nice to ride well there, I love that race. But again it’s a tall order when a lot of guys will have done worlds and the Vuelta and I’ll have been training solo for six weeks. I’ll give it a crack, though.”
He commits to knuckling down, but also admits that he’ll be relieved when the final finish line has been passed. “I’m looking forward to having this season behind me. It’s been a bit of a waste.”
So, the question is this: what comes next for one of the most talented young climbers in the sport? The 2014 season clearly hasn’t worked and something has been off in terms of how he views the sport and how much he wants to perform well in it.
He’s hoping that his agent can come up with a good alternative, a team which gives him the opportunity to both race alongside his brother and also to mix things up and re-introduce an element of fun and adventure.
Asked straight out if he believes he will be part of the pro peloton next season, he admits there is uncertainty. “If not I’ll be riding a lap of the world with Gus,” he said. “But I’d like to race, and reignite my passion for racing. Doing that with Gus would be pretty special.”
Both brothers have been doing very different things in the past four years. One has been working hard in the sport, developing with one of the biggest teams in cycling. The other has been far away from it, immersing himself in what some people might term a more ‘normal’ existence.
Paradoxically, both are looking to escape the ruts that they have found themselves in. For Lachlan, it’s stepping back from the WorldTour and enjoying the bike again; for Gus, it’s returning to the sport he originally walked away from because of burnout.
The hope is that wherever those two trajectories intersect that they both find what they need to thrive.
“If we can pull this off, it’ll be a hell of an adventure. So why not?” asks Gus. “It’s rare you get a second chance and to have that along side your brother is incredible, almost ridiculous.
“Right now, the last thing I want to be doing is the same thing I’ll be doing in 20 years time. Even if that is making jokes at the expense of giant corporations and politicians. It’s important to keep moving. It keeps you interesting.”
It’s clear their 2500 kilometre trip gave them a taster for what they want to do more of. “Lach and I were talking early in the year about doing something really challenging and isolating and educational,” continued Gus. “We discussed taking off to lap the world on our bikes, doing a kind of ‘Thereabouts-abouts-abouts-abouts.’ Just riding and exploring and shooting and writing it all down. We were really excited by the idea but it’s also a big move. We both have long term girlfriends and jobs.
“So Lach proposed he’d try get us a team in there USA where we could race together for another year. If that didn’t work, then we’d go round the world. So it’s going to be an interesting year next year – I’ll either be a pro, or I’ll be sleeping on the side of the road.”