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Lachlan Morton set off on Sunday from Granada, Spain, and is already back, 719 kilometers later, after racing through the remote, ragged southern edge of Europe in record time. He climbed 15,000 meters, down in deserts and up mountains, alone. Eighty-five percent of it was off-road. All of it was unsupported.
The event is called Badlands, organized by Transiberica Ultracycling, and it’s one of the hardest ultracycling events in Europe. The format is simple: start at the start line, finish at the finish line, sleep when you want. First one to the end wins.
As Morton’s EF Pro Cycling teammates raced the Tour de France and Tirreno-Adriatico, got massages and feed bags and slept in hotels, he rode through the night to finish the event in a record 43 hours, 30 minutes. Over nearly two days, he was stopped for only 19 minutes.
Morton was one of 121 riders, split into solo and duo categories. Morton was solo. All 121 set off to the North first, across the Col de la Argumosa, Collado Alguacil, Collado Bermeja, down into Gorafe. Then they cut toward the coast, across the Sierra de los Filabres range, down into the Tabernas desert. A right turn sent them along the beach, into Almeria, up into the Sierra Nevada, and back to where he started.
Photographer Oliver Grenaa was there.
“I think you always learn about yourself when in these tough settings,” Morton said before he said off. “Your world is simplified down to you and your bike. It’s never the same, so I’m looking forward to what challenges pop up… The route captured my imagination.”
Badlands is not Morton’s first foray into ultracycling, of course. He won GBDuro last year, setting a record, set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Kokopelli trail, among other adventures.
“It heightens everything,” Morton said of these types of events. “Your emotional brain gets amped up. To be able to compete in such a unique setting is such a privilege. The high point is over 3000 meters. It covers the only official desert in Europe and also has beach sections. It’s a part of Spain I’m not really familiar with. Also, mentally I’m craving some variety right now.”
The toughest part of the loop comes in the final 150 kilometers. From Pantano de Beni?nar, the course climbs 4000 meters (13,000 feet) in 100 km, up to 3200 meters (10,500 feet) at Valeta Pass, one of the highest roads in Europe.
From there, it’s a drop down to Granada, and the finish.