Lachlan Morton just keeps riding

by Caley Fretz

Words by Caley Fretz | Photos by Dan Monaghan and Gruber Images

As I write this, Lachlan Morton (EF Education-First) has ridden 1,803 kilometers away from Land’s End, at the southern tip of England, and is just under 200 kilometers from his finish line at John O’Groats, the northern tip of Scotland. I know this because I’m watching his dot – I am a dot watcher – move slowly north, nearly 500 kilometers ahead of his nearest rival in this race from one tip of the UK to the other.

“Race” is maybe not the best word. Or maybe it is, if we open our arms to its more varied definitions. Since he set off on the first stage of GBDuro, Morton has covered roughly 260km per day, over surfaces ranging from rocky stream beds to packed-earth lanes to smooth pavement. He has pulled out a steady lead, WorldTour physiology working as one would expect it to. But that’s not really the point here.

GBDuro is a 2,000-kilometer self-supported bikepacking endurance race, consisting of four timed 500-kilometer stages. The lowest aggregate time over those stages wins absolutely nothing.

If this tickles an ancient memory in your cycling-fan brain, that may be because it sounds an awful lot like early editions of the Tour de France. Just a few long stages, each timed and tallied up (though early Tours used a points system, it was soon abandoned). Stops at cafes and bars, not feed zones, for nourishment. Candy, not gel packets. Self-supported, self-actualized, self-motivated. And so as the WorldTour rider steps out of the WorldTour, in some ways he’s just stepping back to what things used to be.

“It’s about pushing the envelope to where your boundaries are,” Morton said before he set off. “Something like this, you’re going to find them. It’s all about how you deal with them, and hopefully how that helps you grow out of it.”

Below is a collection of images from Dan Monaghan at Cadence Images and Jered and Ashley Gruber, roughly in chronological order. They capture GBDuro better, from smiling start to inevitable haggardness, than we ever could in words. Enjoy.

Morton finished the first stage in 32 hours and 10 minutes. The route took him from Lands End to mid-Wales, over 640 kilometers in one go. He was supposed to sleep in Bristol, according to Harry Dowdney, a videographer for Rapha following Morton’s progress, but he “didn’t feel tired,” so he kept going.

GBDuro is self-supported. That means you can stay in a hotel, if you can find one, or in a tent, if you can find one of those, or in a bivvy on the side of a road if that’s the best option. Morton has done all three.

Stage two was rough. It took Morton eight hours to cover just 135km, as roads turned to dirt turned to rocky tracks.

He ended up riding 470km in 33 hours, with only 45 minutes of sleep in a ditch. “It’s quite emotional to witness somebody go to the depths, and keep going deeper,” Dowdney said. “The truth is, everyone who races these events goes to these places, and the fact that it’s a WorldTour pro doing it doesn’t make it any more special.”

Dot watching is fun. Each rider has a GPS tracker with them, which pings their location up to a satellite and down to a map on your own personal screen. As Morton made his way north, dot watchers who lived nearby began to join him for part of the day. It started with just a few, and grew to whole groups catching up with him for a few hours.

Morton is winning, by a lot. Or maybe everyone wins? Or possibly nobody does. It’s a bit unclear.

Stage 3 saw Morton take a brief nap in a hedge on his way into Scotland. He’d tried three hotels but none had any vacancy, so he hunkered down for a rest before getting up at 3am and continuing on toward the stage finish at Loch Ness. By the end of stage 3, he’d ridden 93 hours and 47 minutes.

Morton should finish GBDURO sometime today. You can watch his progress, and that of all the GBDURO competitors, here.

UPDATE: Morton just finished.

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