First came the joy, as he threw his arms into the air, energizing the crowd.
Then, as he approached the finish the raw emotion came over him. His hand moved to his mouth, tears began to stream down his face, which scrunched up as the gravity of what he had just achieved came over him.
On Sunday in Park City, Utah, Australian Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) crossed the finish line alone and collapsed to the ground, the effort rendering him unable to stand. His team manager came and coaxed him up into an immense hug, lifting him off the ground. His father, David, was there, his pride shining through.
After the podium champagne had been sprayed and drank, and the media poked and prodded his mind for thoughts, Morton strolled down to his team camper, where the celebration had already begun. He hugged and high-fived everyone in sight and popped a beer, before finally heading over to anti-doping.
Morton emphatically captured the overall title of the 2016 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with a ride of pure class on the final day, as the race traversed the brutally steep climb of Empire Pass.
With heavy rain, hail, and an attack by the yellow jersey creating a nervous run-in to the final climb, Morton was put between a rock and a hard place, but he didn’t waver. He “stuck to his guns,” he explained, and entrusted his Jelly Belly teammates, as the small Continental squad from California pulled off the upset, beating WorldTour powerhouses such as Cannondale-Drapac, BMC Racing, and Trek-Segafredo.
It was Morton’s second UCI stage-race victory of 2016, following his overall win at the Tour of the Gila in May.
“I’ve had a pretty tough few years since the last time I raced well here,” Morton said. “A lot of changes in my life and to get back to this top step, it’s very special and there’s a lot of people involved in that. There were a lot of things going through my head. Mainly just all of the people who’ve continued to support me when things weren’t good. It’s easy for guys to come out and congratulate you and pat you on the back when you do something good, but when you’re down and out, that is when you realize who your friends are. I guess I was thinking about all those people and those tough moments.
“I think I’ve learned now not to look too far ahead. I think it’s important to just take stock from what I’ve managed to do this season and just even today and just celebrate that and enjoy that. It’s easy to look at next week and next season and the rest of your career and then all of a sudden it’s over and nobody cares anymore. I’m just going to enjoy this and take everything as it comes.”
Morton’s overall victory in Utah comes, as he tries to find his way back into the WorldTour after having ridden for Garmin-Sharp in 2013 and 2014, signing when he was just 20 years old. Though he never tasted success in Europe, in 2013 he spent time yellow in both Utah and Colorado, at the USA Pro Challenge, winning the Best Young Rider Competition at both races.
Heading into 2017, it’s a tough market for WorldTour riders, with both IAM Cycling and Tinkoff closing up shop. Morton told CyclingTips earlier during the Utah tour that he had not signed with a team for next year, and wasn’t talking with any team directors, either.
The 24-year-old from New South Wales is soft-spoken, and often a man of few words, but when he does open the world into his mind, his thoughts reveal someone who is caring and down to earth, living life in a relaxed Aussie manner.
“I think there’s this misconception about Lachy and he’s this loose cannon and just doesn’t give a fuck and he’s just doing whatever, but he’s a very dedicated guy,” Lachlan’s older brother Angus, also a Jelly Belly rider, told CyclingTips. “He’s focused. He wants what he wants and not what other people think he should be going after. I think people misconstrue that for a lack of focus or something, but he’s not going to go out [training] just because the Tour de France is the biggest race in the world or the WorldTour is the highest level, he’s not going to go do that just because everyone says he should go do that.”
While the Morton brothers live together in Boulder, Colorado, and often room together when they are on the road, they choose to go their separate ways when it comes to training. Lachlan often rides alone in the mountains, and is known within the Boulder cycling community to offer a wave to any cyclist that crosses his path.
“He’s got a big heart,” Danny Van Haute, Jelly Belly general manager, said. “He’s a family man, and he’s a team player. He loves his teammates. He loves the staff. I can’t say anything else about him. I can’t say anything bad about him.”
The 2014 season was a tough one for Morton, and he left the Slipstream Sports program with thoughts of not returning to the professional ranks of cycling. A trip across the Australian outback with Angus revived that passion.
“My family has been amazingly supportive,” Morton said. “It was a big change for me to come back from Europe, and I moved back in with my parents. They are obviously really proud of it. I got married and my wife, she left university to come live here. That’s a pretty big step, or sacrifice. Then my brother, he left his job to come back here and pretty much race for nothing to be here with me. They’re pretty much the direct people who have helped me the most.
“Then on from that, Danny Van Haute at Jelly Belly, he’s been amazing for me. He took a big chance by bringing my brother on, and then he gave me the time last year to find my feet again. This year we had some big goals and he’s put himself and the whole team behind me. Then obviously this week, my team were incredible.
“I think if you speak to people who were in the race, they’ll say they didn’t expect our team to be quite as strong as they were. Right down to the beginning of the climb today, they were still teammates there helping me out and put me in the position I am now. I think they’re directly the people who have affected me the most.”
Morton broke from his private self and opened up on Instragram earlier in the week, holding the leader’s yellow jersey as the potential of overall victory began to present itself and become apparent. After thanking his family and teammates and those who have helped him more recently like Taylor and Davis Phinney, Mike Friedman, and Allen Lim, founder of Scratch Labs, he thanked himself “for actually committing 100% without fearing failure.”
It was a theme Morton reiterated in the post-race press conference, saying, “To win any race, you’ve got to be willing to lose it first.”
While in the yellow jersey, Morton’s handlebars gleamed with yellow bar tape, a touch not usually seen at races other than Grand Tours. It seemed to signify what this meant to Morton and his Jelly Belly team.
“Seventeen years,” Haute told CyclingTips. “Seventeen years of this organization and it took that long to get a big win. This is bigger than our national championships, Freddie Rodriguez, or Canadian national championships. We’ve had many national championships, but winning a 2.HC, a Continental team taking it to the WorldTour teams, is a big deal.”
Morton revealed to CyclingTips he has recently been bringing a coloring book with him on the road, going as far as saying it’s become a “pretty essential” item with him on the road.
“I’ve been bringing a coloring book with me lately,” he said. “That’s becoming pretty essential, otherwise you end up looking at your phone for hours on end.”
Whatever it is that has brought Morton’s racing back into focus, it seems to be working. His performances this year have demonstrated his renowned climbing ability, but they are back to his previous level because his mind is in the right place.
It remains to be seen whether an overall victory and two stage wins at the 2016 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah — along with a stage win and GC victory at Gila — will help him punch his ticket back to the WorldTour in 2017, but for now, Morton is living in the moment, savoring this victory before moving forward and worrying about what lies ahead.