The day after reaching the border at the end of his One Ride Away venture this March, Lachlan Morton met with Mark Padun’s first coach and a group of young Ukrainian cyclists who had fled their homeland.

Padun and Morton are taking a fleet of bikes to Poland to help displaced Ukrainian juniors

It’s almost a case of history repeating itself for Padun, who fled southeast Ukraine when he was 17 and was taken in by a cycling academy.

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When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Mark Padun and Lachlan Morton were both racing the four-day stage race Gran Camiño where Padun took his first victory since his double stage-winning ride at the 2021 Critérium du Dauphiné. But something far bigger was building.

“It has been a factor, but I cannot say a percentage or a number,” Padun said of the effect Russia’s invasion of his home country had on him. “The war started with my first race of the season and it was pure shock to me. But this is my job. I am doing this as best as I can. I always had these thoughts about what was happening, always checking the news, always asking the relatives how they are doing and hoping it is going to end soon.”

On seeing his teammate’s resilience and hearing all the news, Lachlan Morton wanted to do something, “the one thing I know how to do”, which was to embark on a mammoth bike ride to the Ukrainian border, in the process mobilising the bike-riding community. Morton completed the 1,063 km ride in March, raising over $200,000 for the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund – the total is now approaching $300,000.

Now, with the 2022 season wrapped up, Padun and Morton are making the trip to Poland to help a group of displaced Ukrainian junior cyclists who were forced to flee across the border when the Russian invasion began.

Lachlan Morton met the kids this spring after finishing his One Ride Away challenge.

It’s almost a case of history repeating itself for Padun, only this time he’s on the other side of the story. When he was 17, Padun fled his home in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk under similar circumstances, leaving without his parents (who now live in America). He was given a home of sorts at a cycling academy in Kyiv, not to mention the support he needed to pursue his dreams. 

“I just always had the dream to be a pro cyclist,” said Padun, who started racing his bike when he was 11. “I would be at training camps back in Ukraine and would just know that I wanted to be a pro cyclist, that I was working for that.”

Cycling gave a young Padun structure and direction, and he soon moved to Lombardy in Italy where he was looked after by the U23 team that launched his career.

“There were a lot of people there who really liked to help me,” said Padun. “I am very thankful to them. In the two years I was there, I always felt comfortable, and I didn’t lack anything. Everything was in place. I had a salary, which for that period was a really good salary. I had my tickets to fly to Ukraine two or three times per year when I wanted to, and I always had help with documents. This is just the basic stuff, but I always had support. Even now when I do a good result, I will get a call from them or a message, and this is five years later. It felt like more than just a team. It was a step to the WorldTour, but it was a really nice time. I remember my time spent with them really well.”

Less than ten years after fleeing his home, and five years deep into a WorldTour career, Padun is now doing for others what others did for him, and laying down something good – if incredibly tough – as the conclusion to a tricky year for the Ukrainian rider.

With the backing of Cannondale, Padun and Morton head to Poland to give 13 young riders new kit and bikes of their own, providing the same launchpad as Padun himself received from his coach when he was a child.

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