Team EF rider Lachlan Morton has made something of a name for himself this season, in a rather unusual way. The 27 year-old Australian, who joined the American squad at the start of this year, has spent just 41 race days with his team-mates on the road. The rest of his time has been devoted to the Alternative Race Program, participating in cycling events outside the typical UCI calendar.
They have included the GB Duro (a self-supported, 2000km trail ride from Lands End to John o’Groats), Leadville Trail 100, Dirty Kanza and the 3 Peaks Cyclocross. They have taken him beyond the immaculately tarmacked roads and fancy hotels of the WorldTour (before any pros get in touch yes, we know they’re not always that fancy) providing challenges and experiences he’d never expected to get as a pro. We caught up with Lachlan ahead of his appearance at the Rouleur Classic 2019, where he’ll be sharing his experiences of his year off the road.
Rouleur: What was it that made you want to participate in, or even be the leader of, the Team EF Alternative Race Program?
Lachlan Morton: Partly it’s been about pushing my own physical and mental limits by pursuing stuff that’s outside of my wheelhouse.
But I think [what has most appealed] is that a lot of those events are participation events that anyone can enter. So you’re involved with a much wider cycling community than just the professional peloton, which I’ve really enjoyed. I think that’s been the hardest part of going back to road races. Kind of like: “What are we trying to achieve, here?”
A lot of what you’re trying to achieve generally as a pro cyclist is to make a career for yourself, make money, win races. There’s not a lot of involvement in the wider cycling community. Personally I’ve always struggled with finding a sense of purpose.
It’s quite self-serving. You’re not getting a lot of achievement out of it. “What am I doing it for?” Just being involved with the wider cycling community has a) been a lot more enjoyable but b) feels great to just be involved with the wider cycling community, and understanding what other people get out of it.
You mentioned a feeling of lacking purpose in pro racing. Have you found it in the alternative programme?
Yeah, I feel a bigger connection with the wider cycling community. It’s nice being able to provide a link between different groups within the sport. I’m getting the chance to do a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do in the sport, and in the process am growing as a person. My goal is to get more people on bikes and involved in the wider cycling community. That’s the purpose I get out of it.
How receptive has that community been to you and other professional riders participating in these events? Have you experienced any backlash?
I’ve been told I’m wasting my talent and that I don’t belong at certain events. That’s a small number of people and to be honest I don’t mind that. I didn’t want to impose myself on any event or race that didn’t want me there, but everyone at every event has been amazingly welcoming. Far beyond what I could’ve hoped for. I’ve left each race with such a huge buzz and renewed passion. It’s been incredible, actually.
What have been the main highs, lows and most challenging parts of your season?
It’s impossible to pick. I feel like the top ten moments of my entire cycling experience have come from this season, and I don’t think winning a stage of [the Tour of] Utah would even make that list. There were tough lows, especially during Colorado trail and GBDuro, but they were all such transformative experiences that they have all turned into positives.
Did you find yourself at any advantage in these events? Were there any disadvantages to being a pro?
I don’t think I’ve had any major advantage, to be honest. I’ve been massively underprepared for all of them and just trying to juggle so many things, but that’s how I like it. I think people see the fancy pink kit and assume I know what I’m doing, when I don’t really have a clue.
Which of the events was the most fun?
All the alternate events were so unique, I couldn’t pick one over another. I’d love the chance to do them all again.
What’s on the cards for next year and beyond? The same rides or different ones? Could you see yourself doing something like the Transcontinental or Silk Road or something like that?
I think we will take on some new races. I’m not sure what’s planned but for me personally tour divide and race to the rock really capture my imagination. The Silk mountain looks incredible and I definitely want to take on the transcontinental. If I had my way I’d do them all but I’ll have to see what I can manage while racing on the road at the same time.
How have your team-mates and riders on other teams reacted to what you’ve been doing? Do they ask you questions? Are you inspiring more of them to want to do the kind of thing you are?
Everyone is really interested and always have a lot of questions. I’m not sure if it’s inspired them. I guess that’s a question for someone else. But it’s people outside the team bus that I want to reach.
Are you aware of yourself becoming something of an role model? How are you handling the increased popularity and fame?
I just ride my bike the way I like to. When I’m at home it’s the same. It’s a really beautiful thought that that in itself can get other people out riding and improving their lives. I’m not curing cancer though, and there are better role models out there. I feel lucky to be in a position where the more I’m true to myself, the more accepted I feel.
Did you always have a sense of yourself as being a bit different to other pro riders? Where do you think you get that from?
Not really. I just think I started hating the person I was as a racer and then found myself out riding.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity (but mostly because a sizeable chunk of the recording was lost before it could be transcribed).