The thrill of victory: emotions from a race

The brothers Morton are getting their deserved bout of publicity of late thanks to their work on Thereabouts. Angus and Lachlan – ‘Gus’ and ‘Lachy’ – went for a ride… from Port Macquarie on the east coast of Australia, to Uluru and the capture the experience as any modern traveller should. The difference to many is that these guys are genuine story tellers. We’ve documented their progression through the cycling ranks over the years in RIDE and it’s been a great pleasure to watch as they go from being ‘Real Aussie Kids‘, to professionals in their chosen fields.

Last August, in the Tour of Utah, Lachlan won a stage and took the leader’s jersey. This prompted a call to Gus and we asked if he could explain the emotions conjured by a bike race on the other side of the world from where he was watching via a live stream online. The resulting feature is one of our favourites from RIDE #61. With their journey to Uluru about to go into the public domain, it’s a good time to revisit Gus’ ‘confessions about a win‘… here is a flashback from last year. (Originally published in September 2013.)

 

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Emotions from a race

 

– By Angus Morton

 

Cycling is never going to solve the world’s problems but there are moments when a win is so enjoyable that it influences the way we behave and how we relate to ordinary life. Angus Morton explains one such example…

 

The Tour of Utah started at 6.38am on 9 August 2013. Well, for me at least. That’s the time my phone rattled its way into my dreams and broke a peaceful night’s sleep. “You’re still asleep?! Mate it’s after six!” The voice on the other end was so loud it was audible before the phone met my ear. It’s a line I’ve heard so often I now know to take a wide arc when bringing the phone to my face, giving me time to miss it completely. “Well, when you haven’t finished work before midnight at all this week…”

I trailed off as I realised my excuse wouldn’t bring my justification heed. I was used to these early morning calls. They came almost weekly from my dad – a man who, despite spending a greater part of the last 10 years in the US, has trouble deciphering the difference in time zones. Yet he possesses an uncanny knack of timing his calls to arrive around 6.00am on Saturdays after I’ve been out and had a ‘couple’ of beers the previous night.

As Dad began chatting excitedly about something, I drifted in and out of consciousness as I often did during these early morning calls. I lost track of what the topic of conversation was. “He’s just crossed the top of the climb – and he’s got nearly two minutes!

That line brought me back to a lucid state. Guiltily I had forgotten my brother Lachlan was even racing in the Tour of Utah. “Wait. What!? What stage is it?” I asked.

“Stage three!” He was still yelling. And now that he had my attention, Dad’s excitement had reached fever-pitch, running through scenarios at a million miles an hour, skipping to the next sentence before finishing the last as he was trying to work out if Lach could sustain a lead of one minute 30 seconds for the final 38km. I scrambled through the darkness, got to my computer and moments later the live stream was showing me coverage. Sure enough there was my little bro, out in front, all alone, punching down on the pedals. Dad was now becoming too much to handle, I had to tell him to cool it and call me back. I hung up.

Spending the best part of my first 21 years sitting in the saddle racing bikes I came to realise that there isn’t anything that embarrasses one more than a Parental Super Fan (PSF). I think everyone knows what I’m talking about. It’s the parent who simply won’t stop when it comes to their child and how amazing they are. It filters through every facet of their lives. Their child’s successes are of heights greater than those previously reached by man, period*. And their failures, well there aren’t any. And we can step outside if you dare think otherwise. They can be irrational, irritating and embarrassing. I never came close to understanding the PSF. That was, until I became one. Although in my instance, it’s SSF (replace Parent with Sibling).

 

Photo: Brian Hodes

Photo: Brian Hodes

 

As I watched on, Lachy’s legs were pushing him along on the road between Mount Nebo and the town of Payson. Before me, on a computer screen on a sleepy Friday morning in Sydney, I could see the disorganisation in a scattered chase group. I found myself doing the maths, judging wind direction, working out the possibility of survival. I began yelling at the commentators for not giving the time differences often enough, screaming at the cameraman for not getting a better shot. Why didn’t the people in charge of the GPS update the location more frequently? Why weren’t more people tweeting from the road? Why wasn’t the helicopter at the front of the race? I was yelling at Lachlan begging him to get down lower on his handlebars and “stop looking behind!” He was wasting too much energy.

Has he got water? Get a car up there! I woke up my girlfriend to make sure she was briefed on everything that was happening. I raced to the other room and got my sister in to check it all out. It’s happening. Of course I fired off a couple of Instagram shots from the screen of Lach riding to let my friends know that my little bro was at the front, on his own… and he was gonna win!

I was 10,000km away and I had become the SSF…

Sport can do strange things. We’ve all got our stories. The race that captivated us. The attack that changed our perception. The sprint that we’ll never forget. The crash that shocked us and made us look away and watch from behind our hands. The frustration of stupidity. The thrill of victory. We like it. We hate it. We love it. We live it.

 

To help you understand, here is the story of the last 40km of stage three of the 2013 Tour of Utah as recounted to me by Lachlan Morton, my brother, my mate – the best bike rider in my world. “When I arrived at the summit of Nebo with 35km to ride and about 1:45 lead, I had no choice but to totally commit. I’d left a lot out there already and was close to giving up. Fuelled by a mixture of anger and excitement I pushed the descent without fear, taking risk after risk. The final rollers into the wind were agony. The severe change in pace from the long downhill makes it as mentally challenging as it is physically difficult.

“I told my director Chann to get f–ked the last time he pulled alongside to give direction because I was doing everything I could.

“I’d practised this scenario in my mind ever since giving myself an ultimatum: ‘Make it this year or go back to school.’ It was my entire career thus far culminating in the one move. I put everything behind it and to run down to the finish and finally realise the win was exceptional. It was a great honour to achieve the victory and to be able to dedicate it to my late grandfather.

“It’s not often such an opportunity presents itself when you have the legs to back it up. When Ryder Hesjedal pulled up after a suicide turn early on Mt Nebo, I knew that was My Moment. It was completely up to me.

“After attacking at the steepest section of the climb it was my head trying to slow my legs down. That’s the opposite of normal, that never happens. Cycling is an incredibly tough sport and I’d be lying if I hadn’t questioned my place here. Everyone does it tough but when you have the support of some of the best in the world, like I did…

“It’s impossible not to give it everything. I hope I am able to repay their faith and support in me in the future.”

“I’m getting on a plane.” Dad was still yelling.

“I’m getting on a plane!” Those were his words as I called him after Lachy rode to the finish to take his first pro victory. We were both exclaiming that everything was “now going to change” because of this. ‘Everything’ is a lot but at that moment, at the end of the race, it seemed possible that it might somehow be able to solve the conflict in Syria. Good things could happen.

“Do it, Dad. Go. Get over there! He’s gonna win the whole thing!” I was so fired up I went to work an hour early and began telling everyone as they arrived. “My bro just won the stage in the Tour of Utah taking the leader’s jersey in the process.” Everyone was pleased but, as a general rule, they had no idea what I was on about. They indulged me by listening to my recap of how it all went down. A couple even asked me how he was faring in the following days. But it wasn’t until I was recounting the story to a colleague over a week later that I noticed exactly what I had become.

 

Photo: Brian Hodes

Photo: Brian Hodes

 

As I began the wrap-up of the story, the part about what it will mean for Lachlan’s future and career, I got ‘The Look’. It is the telltale sign – the slight recoiling of the head and down glance to the left. It’s subtle and it’s given by a friend to a PSF or SSF when they’ve crossed into crazy territory.

Initially I was extremely embarrassed at this. I retreated and made an obvious effort to avoid any sports talk at all. I decided to give it a day or two before resurfacing with any form of commentary whatsoever. During this retreat, however, something strange happened: I realised I didn’t actually care that I had become a SSF. (This, in itself, is a progression into the final stage of being a full-blown SF: Acceptance.) I was proud of what my bro had done because I knew what he had to do to get there and because there’s something about seeing someone you love succeed that gives you a stronger satisfaction than when you yourself succeed.

Was Lachlan’s win greater than all others? Absolutely not. Four other guys won stages in the same race that same week and Lachy’s team-mate Tom Danielson went on to obliterate the field and take the overall victory. My little bro had a few days in the yellow jersey but that time passed as life started to become normal again.

All the wins in Utah were equally as impressive. Each has its own story. However, for my dad and our family it was Lachy’s ride in stage three that has made the cycling season – maybe the decade. And we will talk, our chests puffed with pride, of the day Lach won on Mt Nebo.

The same will go for every other athlete who has won a race this year or any year. For they all have their PSFs and to them a particular victory will be the greatest victory of all – one that’s never to be surpassed… until, of course, they win again. This is what gives sport its passion, why the celebration of every victory is heartfelt.

Super Fans know what those who they cheer had to overcome to achieve success; they have seen the ups and downs, they have experienced them and know exactly what that victory means. Sure they may bail up the DS, or state coach, or competitors’ parent or idol and wax on about new training methods, or eating habits, sending your cheeks into a boil. Pro cycling – or any other career for that matter – can be incredibly tough and at times we all question what we do and why. It’s at this time that we need the Super Fan for it’s them who make even our smallest triumphs significant. Significant enough to give us the fuel to survive until the next one, whenever that may be.

 

 

– By Angus Morton

 

Photo: Brian Hodes

Photo: Brian Hodes

 

Author: rob@ride

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