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Lachlan Morton Q&A: Motivated, focused, confident

Lachlan Morton talks about his ambitions as he returns to the WorldTour, his influence as an unconventional rider, and family.

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Lachlan Morton will return to the WorldTour next year after signing a two-year contract with Dimension Data in early October. In his words, it was his performance at the Tour of Utah in August, where he won two stages and the overall title, which caught the attention of the South African-based team.

But it won’t be the 24-year-old Australian’s first foray at the WorldTour level.

[related title=”More on Lachlan Morton” align=”right” tag=”Lachlan-Morton”]

Morton turned professional with Garmin – Sharp in 2013, after having ridden for the Colorado-based Slipstream Sports development squad since he was 18. For years, he circled the globe to race his bike, living in Europe for much of the year, darting home to Australia when he could, and basing himself in Boulder, where his parents live, to prepare for the late-summer swing of climb-heavy stage races in Utah and Colorado that suited him best.

But after a 2014 season in which results were non-existent — visa issues kept him from racing in North America, and he found himself isolated and very unhappy in Europe — he gave it all up. Voluntarily. He walked away from the dream, at age 22.

His difficult relationship with the sport and the subsequent rekindling of his passion for cycling have been detailed on this site, in stories like this. The adventurous exploits of Lachlan and his brother Gus — riding across the Australian Outback and from Boulder, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, for the pure love of riding — have gained the pair a cult following.

In 2015, he returned to racing with American domestic outfit Jelly Belly – Maxxis. This season, it all came together: He garnered his best-ever results with overall wins at the Tour of the Gila and Tour of Utah. Now, he turns his attention back to the top level of the sport.

Managing editor Chris Case caught up with Lachlan at his parents’ home in Boulder to discuss his future, his past, that Utah win, and how he feels about his status as cult hero.

Chris Case recounted Morton's difficult relationship with cycling and the rekindling of his passion for riding in "Outback & beyond," which ran in the February 2015 issue of Velo.
Chris Case recounted Morton’s difficult relationship with cycling and the rekindling of his passion for riding in “Outback & beyond,” which ran in the February 2015 issue of Velo.

Do you need a team that’s open-minded, in order to live life your way, race competitively, and make it work successfully?

Yeah. I don’t think I could have jumped into a French team. I think I would have been kidding myself if I’d gone to somewhere like Cofidis. Dimension Data seem pretty relaxed, they leave you to your devices a bit. Obviously the whole charity side of it, I think it’s a unique team. And I’ve never been to Africa. It’s also a pretty multinational team. I know Nathan Haas pretty well. He was out here in Colorado training a little bit before I went to Utah, and he was saying how much he loved the team. We’re not the same sort of personality, but similar, I guess. When I was offered this team, it was the right move.

Where will you base yourself in Europe?

Probably in France. I was thinking in Toulouse, most likely.

Anybody else live there?

No.

Why there?

Because no one else lives there. [laughs] I did the Girona thing. It’s not for me. So, I kind of want to do something where I’m setting up myself. I know some people in Toulouse, but they’re not bike riders. I’m married now, so it also becomes important for what Rachel’s doing. If I was going by myself, I’d just go and live in Andorra, ride all day, and then …

Life is different for you now, of course. But what will you need to do to avoid the pitfalls that wreaked havoc on your previous stint living in Europe?

I think I’ve learned how to prepare myself for races a lot better. I had to learn what I had to do in training. And I can pretty much make that work anywhere now. So, it’s just about being comfortable and focusing on yourself.

[pullquote align=”right” attrib=”Lachlan Morton”]”I want to go back and prove that I can be good. Otherwise I would just stay here.”[/pullquote]

For sure, it’s going to Europe. It’s a big deal to go and do that. But I think if you see it as an opportunity to go live somewhere else, it will be fun — as opposed to if you have to do it, like an obligation to go there for work, so to speak.

I know the things I have to do myself anywhere I go and I’m pretty confident I can ride well, then. The thing is, when you are riding well everything becomes easier — your whole mentality, everything. So if you can just focus on getting that part right, the rest just sort of falls into place.

What do you see your role being at Dimension Data?

I go to training camp in November in South Africa and hopefully work it all out there. But, I mean, they don’t really have a full GC guy.

They do now.

I would like to develop into that role. I’m not under any pretenses … I don’t think I can go in and be a GC guy in Europe straight away. But maybe two years down the track, I could be. Anyways, there’s a lot of opportunity. Obviously, they have [Mark] Cavendish and if you are riding for a sprint, then you’re riding for a sprint. But, they also have guys like [Steve] Cummings, and he’s won a bunch of races this year, and he’s pretty much got his own freedom. That’s how I would see myself in the next year, hopefully. At least in some races having enough freedom to target stages or whatever. Now, knowing what it’s like racing in Europe, it’s not going to be as big of a shock. And if you know the system enough, you can make those things happen.

There’s going to be days when I’m riding out front. But hopefully, I can slowly establish myself as a GC guy. That’s why I’m motivated to go back there. To go there and ride the front and be a domestique? I could do that for sure, but that’s not why I’m motivated to go back. I want to go back and prove that I can be good. Otherwise I would just stay here.

Are there certain races that you’ve got your mind set on doing?

I really want to do a grand tour. I’ve never done one. I always seem to be good the deeper into a race, in the races I’ve done. Obviously three weeks is a totally different ball game, but I’d love to do one and get the feel for it. I will know then better if I’m cut out for it or not. But for me now that’s the motivation.

I want to do the Giro. I think that’d be sweet. It’d be hard. You get your head kicked in probably, but then at least you know, ‘All right, I know what I need to do.’ That’s what I’m motivated to go and do. But I’ll go to any race that they send me to. In my head now, that’s what I’m thinking about.

Obviously there’s all the classics, too, and those sort of races. That’s motivating for me now. That’s not intimidating. It’s like, ‘Alright, I want to go in there and have a go at them.’ Lombardia, that’s a race. I’ve done it a couple of times, but I’ve never really raced it.

[pullquote align=”right” attrib=”Lachlan Morton”]”Last time I was worried about getting my head kicked in and being like, ‘Oh no, I suck!’ I know now that that’s probably going to happen, initially, or at some stage.”[/pullquote]

Do you think in the long term that your previous stint in Europe, which didn’t go so well, and your time with Jelly Belly are good experiences to have had?

Yeah, definitely. It all sort of came together this year after the experiences from the prior three or four years. I think everyone gets to a point in their career where … obviously, there are a few superstars who that never happens to, they’re always good. But I think the majority of pros go through a stage when things don’t go well. They either stop, or they come out the other side and they’re better for it. I think I went through that when I was straight off the boat, when I was young. All that experience is good now because I’m not really intimidated by it anymore, I’m more sure of myself. I know it’s not the be-all, end-all. I know now it’s something that I really want to do for myself. Definitely all that experience has helped me get to a point where basically I’m really motivated to do it for all the right reasons. I know what those reasons are. I didn’t have that going there the first time.

Any anxiety?

A little bit. Yeah, I get nervous before any race. But it’s a lot of the other shit I have to do. You have to get visas sorted, you have to move into an apartment, all that. The racing and all that is a comfortable place. Last time I was worried about getting my head kicked in and being like, ‘Oh no, I suck!’ I know now that that’s probably going to happen, initially, or at some stage. If you persist with it and keep doing what you’re doing, then you get strong enough and you come out the other side. Nerves are just about establishing a new life there. It’s not just me, now that I have a wife. I’m taking her with me. And the dog, yeah. It’s pretty easy to take dogs to Europe. A lot easier than Australia.

Do you speak French at all?

No, just got the textbook.

You’ve told me before you’re not great with languages.

No, I’m not. I don’t know, I think it’s because I don’t talk much really anyway. I’m not that sort of person to put myself out there as much. I hate studying; I find it frustrating. I hate not being good at something. But I’ve also never really tried before. The last time, I never really wanted to learn. I don’t know, you can’t just try and learn for the sake of learning. I never actually wanted to speak it before. I was, like, ‘I’ll just go home, do my talking at home.’ I’m going to try this time; I’ll have Rachel helping me out.

How low did you get the last time you were living in Europe. Were you fully depressed?

Yeah, 100 percent. Probably in the last year I was there, it was a miserable time. It’s a good thing to be outside of. That’s part of the reason I could never go back to Girona, because of the associations with that place. It sucked there for a little while. It’s just something you go through.

Let’s turn to happier thoughts. If you’re dreaming, what makes a successful 2017 season for you?

If I can get to a stage by the end of the season where I’m at least in the final of the race, in contention in some races, that would be successful for me. If I progress, if I continue to progress the way I think I can … it’s too hard to say, winning a stage at something. If I could get to a stage where I’m preparing and showing up at races and being able to fulfill my potential, and actually be racing, not just surviving, that would be a good progression. In that two-year progression, then I could start the next year and be like, ‘Alright, I want to target this race for a result.’

Morton dug deep on the Tour of Utah's final climb, riding away from everyone for the stage and GC win. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
Morton dug deep on the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah’s final climb, riding away from everyone for the stage and GC win. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Let’s talk about the performance that made all of this possible: Utah, particularly that final stage. Did you actually feel like you were going to pass out when you were on the attack on Empire Pass?

Yeah, I went pretty deep there. It was one of those things where you’re racing in the moment, so when you attack you’re not thinking about going all the way up the hill. And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh shit, that’s a pretty long way.’ I can go pretty deep in training or whatever. But when you’re off the front in that situation, you’re like, ‘I have to keep going.’

Was that victory — putting it all together across the entire week as an underdog team — among the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding thing that you’ve done in cycling?

Yeah, definitely. It was one of those unique wins where I knew I was going to win before I got over the top of the climb. I never had a time gap either, so I just kept going as hard as I could. Then I finally got the time gap when I was right near the top. So I knew that I didn’t have to fully push it, which was sweet. Then I could enjoy it and actually think about it.

[pullquote align=”left” attrib=”Lachlan Morton on his Tour of Utah win”]”I don’t think I’ll ever beat that. That environment like that, everything coming together and it all just working.”[/pullquote]

Coming in, all the factors that went into it, like doing it with [my brother] Gus, my family was there, doing it with Jelly Belly, and when no one really expected us to do it. All those factors … it’s going to take a pretty special win to top this one. Okay, it’s not the Tour de France, but it might as well be for us this year. That was it. For me, personally, it might be the best win I ever have, which I’m fine with, because it was sweet, it was really cool. That’s not to say that I’m not motivated to go and win bigger races. But I don’t think I’ll ever beat that. That environment like that, everything coming together and it all just working … That was the sweetest win I’ve ever had, for sure.

That win probably helps you understand how you respond to pressure. Did you learn a lot from that win?

Definitely. I think it’s all in the preparation for me. A lot of the time I second-guess myself, or it’s when I know I haven’t prepared as well as I should have. For that race I had done everything right. ‘If I lose, I just lose.’ It’s not like I wasn’t good enough. I haven’t really had that mentality or prepared that well since I was a junior. I know if I do everything right up until the race, then the race is just the race.

How drunk did you get that night?

We got pretty hammered. Yeah. I had to do the press conference and all that. But when I finished that, everyone was still hanging out, because dad was there, and I was like, ‘Got to grab a case of beer, because all the guys are going to be coming in.’

We kind of just sat there, outside the team bus for an hour. The race was packed up. We all just sat around drinking beers and it was cool. We were up to 2 or 3 a.m. or something. It was good. It was a good celebration. It was cool to be able to see how many people that were involved, but also how many people it can make happy. Just me, winning a race. It’s cool.

At the 2013 Tour of Utah, Morton carried a little extra weight on his bike, but the license plate was worth it. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
At the 2013 Tour of Utah, Morton carried a little extra weight on his bike, but the license plate was worth it. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

You and Gus, but particularly you, are wildly popular with a segment of cycling fans. I don’t know if you are willing to admit that. You know what my question’s going to be. Why do you think you have this appeal?

[Lachlan squirms in his chair] I think cycling …

Let me stop you. Why did you roll your eyes when I said that? You’re aware of this fact, right?

Yeah, I guess so. [laughs, squirms some more.]

Are you reluctant, and maybe in disbelief, that you have this appeal?

Yeah. I don’t think I’m that different than any other racer. I think cycling is in a stage now where like, it’s all so clear-cut, sterile I guess. The performance side of it. I think if you look back at the ’90s and the ’80s, when obviously there were a lot of drugs involved with it, there was this room for personalities and stuff, I guess, because they didn’t have to focus so much on training and all these hard things. [laughs]

Now it’s going so far the other way, and then it’s all so scientific and structured that … I guess it’s probably just strange for people to see people doing it a different way. I guess maybe that’s it? I don’t know.

[pullquote align=”left” attrib=”Lachlan Morton”]”I think cycling is in a stage now where like, it’s all so clear-cut, sterile I guess.”[/pullquote]

You’re a non-conformist, to some degree?

Yeah. Not by choice, I’m just doing what I’m doing. I know the way I like to do things, which is maybe a little different. I think more so, recreational cyclists can relate to it.

You’re more human and less robot.

Right. Maybe. Yeah, I think a lot more people can relate to just the love for riding. I think a lot of people just have that. That’s why they ride. They don’t have ambition to win a bunch of races. I think a lot of people can relate to me better that way, I guess.

It seems like you’re a little uncomfortable with this status, fame, appeal.

Generally a little bit, for sure.

More than a little bit?

Yeah, yeah.

Is that because you’re an introvert?

Yes, yeah. I think the thing is people like being able to relate to that, and then I still can compete with the best guys. I think that’s a big part of it, because when you’re not winning races or whatever, then people sort of take less interest. It’s cool that a lot of guys are starting to go and do trips and stuff. I think it’s better for the sport and makes it more interesting.

I have no real interest in doing it the scientific way, the do-nothing-else way. If I had to do it entirely that way, then I wouldn’t do it, you know? I just keep doing it the way I want to do it. Now I want to go and do the Tour de France. All of a sudden, I’m like, ‘F— that’s something I could go and do. If I’m good enough.’ To take my approach and take it to that stage, I think that’s motivating.

I think that might be everything I had. Oh, why do you live with your parents? That was supposed to be my first question.

Why not? It’s a beautiful home. Three families living in this house. (Lachlan’s parents, Lachlan and his wife, and Gus and his wife all live in the Boulder home when the brothers are in town.) It’s cool. It’s an awesome dynamic we have in here. We always cook dinner together here. Everyone’s kind of doing their own thing all the time, but we always have dinner together. It’s nice just having all the family around. We all moved out [from our home in Australia] around the same time. I was, I think, 18. Then we all came back together at the same time.