The possibility that the sport could lose one of its most promising young climbing talents has abated with confirmation that Lachlan Morton will remain a professional cyclist in 2015.
The Australian told CyclingTips last month that he wanted to step back from the WorldTour level, saying that he had had enough. “I’m looking elsewhere – I want to have some fun racing next year,” Morton said, when asked if he hoped to remain with his Garmin-Sharp team.
“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.”
Now, eight weeks later, that scenario has come to pass.
“I basically went to my agent and said that I want to ride with Gus. Unless a team will facilitate that, I am not sure I want to race,” he told CyclingTips Thursday. “We then found a team in Jelly Belly in the States and signed a deal last week. It’s super exciting, actually. I’m really looking forward to it.”
While going to a US Continental team after two years at the WorldTour level with Garmin-Sharp might seem a step back, Morton is clear that he doesn’t see it this way. He admits that he struggled to fit into the constrained, monastic lifestyle needed for the WorldTour, and made clear that he wanted to have more fun in the sport.
Riding with his brother Gus has rekindled his enjoyment of cycling. The confirmation that the two will be able to race together in 2015 has made a bit difference to his outlook.
“For me that is everything,” he said. “I was having a chat with a mate last night, and I said it was the first off season that I had in the past three or four years that I am looking forward to get back into training. I’m excited by the whole idea about what we are doing.
“We are going to have some freedom to do some Thereabouts rides and basically to make more of a life about it, to have a more sustainable environment.
“For me that was hugely important as I didn’t see myself doing long term what I was doing in Europe.
“I think it is good for Gus as well. Both our girlfriends will be moving over with us. It will just be nice to have that sort of environment around us where there is always something different going on, but it is always based around bike riding and doing what we love doing.”
Blending ability with adventure:
Morton highlighted his talent when he finished seventh overall in the Tour of Utah in 2010, despite being just 18 years of age and riding on junior gearing. He was with Garmin-Sharp’s feeder team Holowesko Partners at the time and became a stagiaire with the WorldTour team in 2012.
He then turned pro with the squad in 2013 and quickly got into his stride, winning a stage in the Tour of Utah, leading the race and finishing 14th overall. He took second on day two of the USA Pro Challenge, wearing yellow for two days en route to fifth in GC. Netting the best young rider award in both events further underlined his class.
Older 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 during Lachlan’s 2013/2014 off-season, returning after a four year break.
Together the duo completed the 2500km journey from Port Macquarie to Uluru, as documented in their “Thereabouts” feature.
While that trip rekindled Gus Morton’s attraction to the sport, it raised big questions for Lachlan. He realised that the fun he had on that back-to-basics ride dwarfed his feelings about racing in some top events. He later struggled to remain motivated during his 2014 season with Garmin-Sharp, leading to a big change in how he saw the sport.
“Being able to race at a good level and have a few really big races each year that we can focus on is an ideal scenario,” he explained. “It was kind of a long shot, I knew it was a long shot, but sometimes you have just go for it. When you pull it off it is pretty sweet.”
The effect on his morale is immediate. “I am super-motivated now to repay the team for the faith they have put in us,” he says. “I am really looking forward to meeting all the guys and hopefully get a good team together.
“I really see it as the best move I have made in a while. It is a move I feel really confident in and really good about.”
Lachlan Morton returned to Australia a little under two weeks ago. He and his brother bought mountain bikes this week and plan to use them as part of their buildup towards 2015, but will also do plenty of road training. As Gus Morton hasn’t raced at the professional level for several years, the duo realise that it will take a lot of hard work.
He’s committed to doing it, though, and will knuckle down while based in their hometown of Port Macquarie prior to moving back to the US.
“Realistically, it will take him three months or so,” says Morton. “But if you look at the calendar, the racing doesn’t really start until March and I think he will be at a decent level by then. It might take him some time to get race fitness but by the middle of next year he should be good.”
More Thereabouts trips planned:
Unsurprisingly, the on-bike Thereabouts roadtrips are likely to be part of their routine next season. Taking the duo from one location to another hundreds of miles away and spread out over several days, they provide a constantly-changing environment.
The sense of exploration, discovery and adventure works well for motivation and fuels their interest in the sport. Three time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond did something similar in his off-season. Morton says that the duo might do a few smaller trips in Australia prior to heading back to the States, then will do several in 2015, likely five days to a week long.
They will fit these in around racing, using them for physical conditioning and mental stimulation. “Being based in the States, we will have a lot on our doorstep, which would be cool,” he says.
“Hopefully we would be able to bring on a few different sponsors for each ride and then just go and do one. Whether that is just photographic content or video content depends on basically how much money we can get together to do it. The plan is basically to build a lot of content next year, and to have a consistent blog that people can follow.
“We have also been toying with the idea of riding to the Jelly Belly training camp in San Diego in February. We will most likely be in Boulder, so that would be a cool ride. I would imagine it would be pretty close to a thousand miles.”
Back to his best?
The level shown by Morton in 2013 underlines his climbing talent and what he can achieve when he’s fully motivated. He had a quiet season this year; with his brother riding alongside him and the chance to mix things up via Thereabouts rides, does he believe he can get back to that previous level with Jelly Belly?
“Yeah, yeah. I will be disappointed if I don’t,” he says. “I am pretty confident that going back to basics, training hard but having a good time while doing it is the key. For me that has always been the way.
“We head up to Port Macquarie today, but we start training next week. That was where we always trained when we were younger. I think going back there and getting in a good base in the next couple of months will be important, then just sort of focussing on the simple things that sometimes you get lost in in the crazy bike thing.
“They get lost with the power meter and few things like that which don’t really work for me. Instead, from the performance side, we looked at what I was doing when I was riding well. It was basically just riding a lot. I am pretty sure that I will be able to get back to that level.”
Morton accepts that racing in America alone will be different to his past two seasons with Garmin-Sharp. He fully embraces that, believing it will suit him well, and has outlined some key targets.
The early one will be the Tour of California, providing the team gets an invite. “For the first half of the year, that will be the big goal for me,” he says. I think it will be a great goal for Gus too. If he can get himself into the shape where he can make that team, I think that would be amazing.
“He would be super happy with that, and that would be my goal for him in the first half of the year. It is hard for us to gauge where he will be at, but I think that is something that is a realistic target.”
“After that, the big goals for me are going to be Colorado and Utah. I definitely know how to prepare for them and I have ridden well there in the past. In my mind it is already where my goals lie for the year.”
He’s looking forward to the terrain those races offer, but also to being there as part of a smaller setup. No longer WorldTour, he and his team-mates will be underdogs of sorts, but will draw motivation from taking on the bigger squads.
“I think it is going to be fun to be on a team where everyone is not necessarily going to be looking at you,” he explains. “Being able to go in there and maybe stir things up with a different groups of guys, all motivated riders who want to be doing it. I think it will be really cool. I am pretty confident.”
WorldTour return: Never say never?
In speaking to Morton about his plans, it’s clear that he’s excited about what the future offers. He sounded deflated at times during 2014 but reuniting with his brother in a pro team, having the chance to live a more ‘normal’ lifestyle and the prospect of regular Thereabouts rides seem to have struck the right balance.
There is one obvious question, though: does he believe he’ll ever ride WorldTour again?
“I would never rule it out,” he answers. “But I think it would have to be pretty ideal scenario for me to go back. Then again, my mindset could change. You could have a really successful year and be itching to get back in the biggest races again.
“But I certainly don’t think I would compromise what I am doing here with my family and my close friends, to lock myself in an apartment in Europe just so I can race in the WorldTour. I wouldn’t do that again.
“At this point in time I am not going back to US racing with the goal of going WorldTour again in 2016. I made it clear to the team, that I am coming back on my own terms because I want to.”
What’s most clear is that he doesn’t see his move from one of the top teams in the sport to a smaller squad as a step backwards. If it works for him and keeps him fully engaged, that’s all that really matters.
“A lot of people might look at it and say, ‘ah, you ended up on Jelly Belly, what happened last year?’ For me, though, it is something I wanted to do and I am excited about it.
“I also think that doing this for a year means I will definitely learn a lot about how I need to prepare for races and what I need to do to perform at that level.
“It will teach me a lot about the environment I need to create.”