Lachlan Morton conquers Pyrenees, has new sandals, and won’t sleep ’til Paris
While the Tour de France peloton has slugged it out through the Alps and Pyrenees, there’s been another race going on – recorded not on TV screens but with a little pink dot moving across a map of France.
That little pink dot is EF Education–Nippo rider Lachlan Morton, who has spent the last couple of weeks on a long, epic quest of his own: to ride the entire Tour de France route (including transfers), unsupported, and beat the peloton to Paris. They’re calling it the Alt Tour.
Because of the transfers – where the riders get spirited to their next destination by team bus – Morton will be riding an extra 2,400 km compared to the actual Tour de France route, a big chunk of which comes from the 700+ km transfer up north to Paris. Morton’s final tally will be 5,510 kilometres and 65,500 metres of climbing. That’s the equivalent of 13 extra ascents of the Col du Tourmalet in vertical gain, compared to the 42,200 m of the actual Tour route.
While there’s an enormous personal challenge at the core of Morton’s Alt Tour, there’s a bigger ambition too. It’s a fundraising initiative for World Bicycle Relief – a charity that has a long history of providing bikes that are specifically designed for a long life in tough conditions to people in need. So far, Morton has raised over £300,000 (US$417,000 / AU$558,000).
When we last checked in on Morton, he had a 600 km buffer on the Tour de France, and had just conquered Mont Ventoux for the first of two times. By that point he’d had some ups and downs throughout the challenge – sore knees, sore feet, wet camping gear, two stages in a day riding on flat pedals in Birkenstock sandals. You know, the usual kinda stuff.
In the days since then, Morton has continued to roll with the punches. Including the social media allegation that he is on a nation-wide vampire hunt.
On day 11 of his journey, Morton had a rough night’s sleep after a nearby rave kept him awake. He rose to a delicious breakfast of a litre of full cream milk mixed with sweetened condensed milk and coffee powder. “Milk is an easy way to get protein in and I can digest it really easily,” he apparently said, and continued on his way toward the Pyrenees.
That day the indignities kept coming. First, a day-long headwind. Second, a flat Di2 battery, leaving Morton spinning in the small ring for 120 km.
By day 12 – when Morton had charged his battery and was well and truly back in the mountains, he was feeling fairly haggard. He’d bought a new pair of sandals after the last ones died a horrible death, got given a pair of carbon insoles from a dot-watcher, and again, hacked off the bottom straps to avoid them rubbing on his feet.
“It’s a very different tired. It takes me two or three hours to get going. After five hours I feel really good, and the last four or five hours are really difficult again. The toll on my body is a lot more, I’ve got blisters everywhere, I haven’t been sleeping as much as I normally would.”
Day 13 in Andorra saw Morton’s spirits lifted by visits from EF Education-Nippo teammate Jimmy Whelan and fellow Aussie pro Rohan Dennis, who brought some home-baked banana bread for his friend.
He also had a quick lunch with his wife, Rachel, with both parties relieved that he wasn’t too smelly after she’d encouraged him to bring soap on the ride.
“It’s just nice to see some familiar faces. If I’m honest, I was worried about seeing Rachel half way through something like this, because sometimes you just let your guard down a bit, let yourself think about the finish and what it’s like at home, and it just breaks that mentality you had. But I’m really glad I got to see her … she said I didn’t stink! Which was a huge relief.
If you’ve ever smelt someone doing an ultra-race, anyone who’s pushing, they usually stink pretty bad. Well, I do anyway, I don’t want to speak for everyone. Normally I smell really horrible. It’s like a very specific smell. Somewhere between a dead animal and feet. A wet warm smell. There’ll be a day when you catch a little bit of tailwind and you’re like ‘what is that smell?’ ‘Oh, it’s me.’“
Over the weekend, two weeks since he set off on the Alt Tour, Morton had a date with the rest of the Pyrenees. In a couple of big 300 km+ days, he climbed the Col de Peyresourde, Col du Portet, Col du Tourmalet and Montee de Luz Ardiden, and finally, had completed all of the climbing of note for the Tour route.
At the time of writing, Morton is sleeping under the stars at a riverside campsite in central France. When he wakes, he will tackle the final leg to Paris, without sleep, riding 579 km in an anticipated 24 hours.
All going well, he’ll arrive on the Champs-Élysées on Tuesday morning CEST – five days ahead of the Tour de France peloton, who won’t even have started stage 16 yet.