Lachlan Morton: Like a rolling stone

Lachlan Morton is relaxed, sports a Bob Dylan look, rides with a vanity plate on his bike, and wears the leader's jersey in Utah

PAYSON, Utah (VN) — People say he looks like a young Bob Dylan, his shaggy black locks dripping from his head. Now he’s grown a thin, mysterious moustache a la later Dylan, or reminiscent of Johnny Depp.

Regardless of the look, Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) isn’t a singer/songwriter, or a Hollywood star. He might seem as laid back as any surfer (after all, he is sporting a small license plate on his bike that reads “Chicks [heart] me”), but he’s really just a badass bike racer. And chicks should dig him even more after Thursday.

Morton’s 30-kilometer raid across Mount Nebo in stage 3 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah was confirmation of the talent that observers have seen bubbling in the lithe legs of the Australian climber for years.

“That was pretty unreal,” he said, rather calmly, moments after taking the biggest win of his young career.

“I’m definitely on the up. I’ve changed a few things, got a new coach, been working hard, put my head down for the last month, and it’s starting to come together, which is nice.”

Born in Port Macquarie, between Sydney and Brisbane, the 21-year-old Australian came up racing each summer for six weeks in Colorado with the Real Aussie Kids, a junior Australian development team, separate from the national federation. It taught him not only how to race, but how to live the life of a pro — how to travel and quickly get accustomed to unfamiliar places. His family lived in Breckenridge in the summers and he raced on Colorado’s Front Range, rising through the senior ranks in local races before he could legally drive.

Morton joined the Slipstream development team from there, and his talent was undeniable. But the past two years have seen him slump. Even at May’s Amgen Tour of California, he was unsure of his form.

“I had a really poor start to the season, just because of crashes and injuries more than anything,” he said. He was hit by a motorbike in Australia a week after the Tour Down Under ended, suffering a concussion and hematoma on his leg. Right when he was starting to get into the swing of things, he was hit by a car while training in Mallorca; he suffered a broken collarbone, and his form suffered once again. To top it off, he was taken out by a tourist and crashed in training the day before the Tour de Romandie started.

“It always happens in threes,” he said in California. “So now it’s over with! I’ve got this new confidence and I think I can do anything [laughs]. Really, though, sometimes it’s good to be forced off your bike, because you realize what you want to do, and you find a new motivation.”

What he can do is ride a bike, uphill, very fast.

On Thursday, Morton spoke with teammate Christian Vande Velde at the bottom of the Mount Nebo climb and was told to wait until there were less guys in the ravaged peloton. Another teammate, Ryder Hesjedal, attacked first, and thinned the group immediately. As soon as Hesjedal started to slow, there was a steep pitch, and it was the ideal launch pad for the 6-foot, 135-pound Morton.

“I wasn’t the guy everyone was expecting to go. If you can get that first 20 seconds, they’re the hardest to get. I just had to punch through that first five minutes of being away and establish a good gap. [Not being marked] definitely played to my advantage,” he said.

21 going on 31

Some riders at the Tour of Utah are blown away to find themselves pedaling next to WorldTour riders that they may have idolized — or may still. Morton finds himself riding on a team of guys he has been watching since he was 12 years old, when they were riding in the Tour de France.

“To get support from those guys is pretty amazing, he said. “I’ve had a chance to learn a lot from them this year and when they give you an opportunity, it fills you with confidence, you have no hesitation. It’s an amazing group of guys to ride with, and a really nice group of guys.”

Morton is so thin that his Castelli kit is a bit loose around the sleeves, and the thighs. His demeanor is so laid back, he rivals Hesjedal in his mellowness. But underneath that young façade, he’s an intelligent man. He’s thoughtful and sincere, and wise beyond his youth.

“When you’re striving to get to the professional level, it’s pretty easy, because everything just goes toward that,” he said. “Then when you become a professional, there’s a lot of other factors that come into it because you’ve got to piece everything else in, you know? There’s an entire life to piece into that; you’re not just striving, it’s not a single focus. You’ve got family and friends, and I think it’s really important to keep it all balanced.”

Cycling insiders have been waiting for this win for years. Those who know Morton know just how talented he is. So when he won on Thursday, they weren’t shocked, just happy to see it finally come together after years of waiting. And immediately, the question that swirled in the air was asked around: could he win the whole shebang?

“Absolutely. He could win,” said teammate Tom Danielson. “I’ve known about him since he was about 16 years old, trying to drop him on Mount Evans. I definitely think he can, but we don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, either. You know, I think we have some really strong guys, so he can just relax, enjoy wearing the leader’s jersey. He just has to follow, and we just have to follow.”

Let the young man have his win. A stage race victory is there, waiting for him when the time is right. Maybe that’s on Sunday in Park City. Maybe it doesn’t come until he can grow a full beard and not just the tuft of squiggly black hairs he has fixed to his upper lip.

“I wasn’t really expecting to be fighting for the win here so if [I won] it would be incredible; but there’s still a lot of hard stages to go,” he said. “I’ve just got to see how the legs hold up. As everyone says, ‘Take it day by day,’ but it’s true, it’s all you can do.”

As we saw on Thursday, the hard stages seem to fit Morton just fine.