Australian climbing sensation Lachlan Morton will return to the European peloton in 2017 after signing a contract with Dimension Data, several sources have confirmed with CyclingTips.
The 24-year-old Morton rode for Garmin-Sharp in 2013 and 2014 before spending the past two seasons with the U.S. Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis.
After walking away from the WorldTour in 2014, and rediscovering his motivation in 2015, Morton has had a stellar 2016 season, winning the overall at a pair of UCI stage races, the Tour of the Gila and Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, where he also won stages at both races.
He also finished fourth overall at the Tour de Beauce in June, and was sitting seventh overall at the Amgen Tour of California in May before a crash, which later forced him to abandon with a concussion.
In 2013, at the age of 21, Morton spent time in the leader’s jerseys at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge, winning the Best Young Rider classification in both. However his 2014 WorldTour season was a dismal affair; setbacks included an incident with a motorcycle and resulting concussion, and another incident, with a car while training, that resulted in a broken collarbone. He did not finish 12 of his final 15 starts with Garmin-Sharp, and left the team at the end of 2014, toiling with the idea of quitting the sport at just 22 years old.
Instead, Morton and his brother Gus took a cycling trip across the Australian Outback, reigniting their passion for the sport. They signed, together, with Jelly Belly-Maxxis, where they have ridden together for the past two seasons.
In May, Morton told CyclingTips that he hoped to have another shot at the WorldTour.
“There are a lot of guys who also probably deserve to be on the World Tour,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of them think, ‘You’ve had your crack at it and you kind of snuffed it up.’ Which is what I did, more or less. But that being said, it’s up to a team to make that decision. If I never got back there I wouldn’t be devastated. I wouldn’t ruin my life. But I would like to have one more shot at it.”
Whether or not Morton’s signature with Dimension Data equates to a “return to the WorldTour” is uncertain. The African team, which won five stages at the Tour de France with Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings, could find itself out of the WorldTour after just one season due to an ever-changing WorldTour landscape and the battle for a reduced number of licenses.
Because it currently sits in 18th and last position on the 2016 WorldTour team rankings, Dimension Data is fighting with Bahrain-Merida and Bora-Hansgrohe for the two open slots in the 2017 UCI WorldTour, which the UCI has capped at 17 teams.
Either way, however, because of riders like Cavendish, Cummings, Nathan Haas, and Edvald Boasson Hagen, the team is likely to receive wildcard invitations to the sport’s biggest races — including the Tour de France — meaning Morton will have a second shot at proving himself among the best riders in pro cycling.