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Lachlan Morton is redefining what it means to be a professional rider

'Ultimately he’s creating his own path and as a team, we’re lucky to have him,' Vaughters told VeloNews.

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Lachlan Morton is 1,063km ‘One ride Away’ adventure took him from Munich, Germany to the Ukraine border in less than two days. The ride raised over $230,000 for Ukrainian refugees but even as donations continue to pour in, perhaps the most touching and poignant moment of his epic journey came on the day after its completion.

On Monday, not long after the mammoth ride that involved freezing temperatures, driving rain, and less than four hours rest, Morton was met by Mark Padun’s first cycling coach.

Also read: Yaroslav Popovych swaps team duties for Ukrainian humanitarian mission

For those not aware of the backstory, the ‘One ride Away’ expedition had been inspired through a meal Morton and his Ukrainian teammate Padun shared on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and by the time Morton had reached his final destination on the Poland-Ukraine border millions of refugees had already fled the war in an attempt to find safety.

Padun’s coach and a number of the young riders, all aged between 14 and 17, and still part of the cycling club only had time to pack their bikes as they scrambled for safety and fled their home. The Polish national federation reached out and was able to house them in Spala, just outside of Warsaw, and when Morton completed his ride and was met by a number of the young riders he instantly forgot about the fatigue in his legs and joined them for a spin.

It was a touching and improvised moment that provided both hope and inspiration. The ride also led to a flurry of new donations with Morton’s tally raised for the Ukrainian GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund already miles over its initial target of $50,000.

“He just wanted to demonstrate that this war really wasn’t that far away. It’s only a bike ride away,” Morton’s team boss Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews on Monday evening from his home in Colorado.

“Isn’t that crazy though? I have no idea how it happened with the meet-up and ride. We just started getting pictures from our guy there. We have no idea how he found these people. I think Padun’s coach found Lachlan and he brought those kids from the cycling school that Padun used to race for. He brought them to meet Lachlan and luckily we had some extra jerseys so Lachlan could give them something. It was a really beautiful moment for these kids who left with nothing but their bikes.”

Lachlan is no stranger to off-beat adventures, although this ride was obviously different. Last year he completed the ALT-Tour — a mission that saw him beat the entire peloton to Paris when he rode the Tour de France route, including transfers. His Everesting exploits and gravel epics are well-known, too, but his ride to the border between Poland and Ukraine was something truly special and unique. While most of us are struggling to wrap our heads around the war, and the untold suffering going on in Ukraine, Morton took action and provided a rare glimpse at the hope and beauty that cycling can bring communities both locally and internationally.

“Most of the stuff, about 90 percent of what he does, he comes up with it. He goes into these projects with the intention of doing something good and riding his bike as hard as he can,” Vaughters said.

“He likes seeing new places, so he’s like a very fit ​​Anthony Bourdain of cycling but what makes him different from other riders is that he comes up with these ideas. He’s a super empathetic person. He texted me during Gran Camiño and said we had to do something to help Mark Padun. I thought that meant being supportive but Lachlan just took it to the next level.”

Laclan Morton meets Mark Padun's first coach and the young riders from Ukraine
Lachlan Morton meets Mark Padun’s first coach and the young riders from Ukraine (Photo: EF Education–EasyPost)

Making a difference and choosing another path

The world of top-level racing is harsh and unforgiving. There is little room for sentiment, empathy, and patience, and there was a time, about a decade ago, when Morton was on the periphery and it looked as though his elite career was winding down.

He turned pro with Vaughters’s team in 2013 and at one point he was tipped as a future grand tour star. His frame and natural ability saw him drop WorldTour riders in premier events, even when he was riding with junior gears, but a few years later he was forced to drop down to Continental level and race with Jelly Belly. It looked like his elite career was over before it started, but he came back to the elite tier of racing via Dimension Data and then re-signed with Vaughters ahead of the 2019 campaign.

Since then, he has coupled racing at the top level with ambitious and inspiring solo projects.

At least once a year he will embark on an alternative race or program that would have defied what being a WorldTour rider supposedly was about five or ten years ago.

It’s refreshing and welcome, and while some might ask the question as to whether the Australian has fulfilled his early promise and potential, a far louder voice would argue that Morton has achieved far more on this path than he would have done if he’d continued along a more typical pro’s trajectory.

“Ultimately he’s creating his own path and as a team we’re lucky to have him,” Vaughters added.

“We’re the beneficiaries of his creativity and ideas. He’s got far more value in him than if he had pursued the UCI race plan that he was on the path to do. He’s much more valuable to the world and the team with what he’s doing now.”

“In a way, he’s redefining what it means to be a professional rider. Ultimately the definition of a pro cyclist isn’t going to come down to whether you’re doing well in 1.1 races anymore. It’s going to mean being a cyclist earning his or her living through cycling. People forget that he was a very talented road racer at a very young age and he chose to take his career in a different direction. I read criticism that he does this because he can’t race at a high level — but he was —and is immensely talented, and he’s just made that life choice to do it in a different way. Like doing 42-hour rides.”

“He’s not set up as a person to try and win Paris-Nice. It was incredible what he was doing at a young age but at the highest level of the sport, where it’s so cutthroat, he’s just not interested in that level of cutthroat competition. It has zero attraction to him. He respects it, but it’s not for him, at all. He’s definitely not wasting talent because he just doesn’t want to do that.”

Whatever Morton is doing, it’s working. He has engaged new fans, raised money for valiant causes, and in a purely commercial sense, driven value and exposure for his sponsors at every turn.

He has shifted from the generic rat race of the WorldTour, and while he still has the talent to race at that level, his inspirational rides and creativity are providing so much more than what’s expected from a pro. And if the last 24 hours and the smiles on those young Ukrainian riders’ faces are anything to go by, Morton’s path has been nothing but worth it. Long may it continue.

You can still donate to the One ride Away charity online.