In 2013, Lachlan Morton won stage three of the Tour of Utah and took the overall lead. In 2011, RIDE did a profile on this young man from Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast of NSW. With the help of his family, the youngest of the Morton siblings took a different route to the pro ranks of the cycling world than what has become the norm for Australian riders.
Here is a flashback from RIDE #54, when Rob Arnold wrote a profile about a young rider on the verge of a pro career…
Steady progression through the ranks on a different path to what others have ridden. A real Aussie success story.
– by Rob Arnold
Lachlan Morton profile (first published, November 2011)
Remember the name Lachlan Morton for this 19-year-old has the ability and the attitude to become a true leader of the next generation of cycling stars. It’s early days but he also has the ambition and the right support to take him to the top.
This is a story that could have been published at any stage in the last five years and still been relevant today. The constant progression of Lachlan Morton is worthy of coverage even if he were to stop cycling today and, like his brother Angus, opt out of the sport and focus his energy elsewhere. The pair enjoyed success on the international stage when they were teenagers but they have shunned the traditional routes taken by those who have gone through the ranks of Australian cycling before them.
“There’s an arrangement in place that allows me to feel my way around a little,” explained Lachlan about an agreement nutted out with Slipstream Sports, the company responsible for both the Chipotle development team and Garmin-Cervélo. “We’re on the same page and that’s something I like about the dealings that I’ve had with Jonathan Vaughters.”
The rider and manager are close. They exchange emails and have contact when necessary but there’s no need for them to be in touch regularly. Morton was part of the development team and for a while it seemed he would graduate to the elite squad in time for the 2012 season. But he’s just turned 19. He might be fast – particularly on the climbs – but ‘Lach’ is in no rush to ruin his career with impatience. “If I suggest I need a month off because I’m cooked, they’ll let me do that,” Morton said in May this year when he was back in Australia for a break.
By then he’d already done 40 days of racing for the season and a lot of travelling. In January he was fifth on the stage of the Tour de Langkawi that finished at Genting Highlands; this translated to sixth on GC in Malaysia. From there he briefly returned to his US base in Boulder, Colorado before flying on to Uruguay. He earned a fifth place in a stage of the Rutas de America and, on his day of rest, travelled to Brazil for another stage race. After his seventh place overall in the Giro do Interior São Paulo, it was back to the States (again).
Consider the itinerary. Imagine the experience. At 18, who could ask for a better job? Or should that be, at 18 who has a job that allows them to do this? But do this regularly, in the wrong environment, for too long and burn-out comes easily. For Morton, it’s enjoyable but also part of the preparation for what he hopes will be a long career in cycling.
“To begin with, I wasn’t really fussed either way,” replied Morton when asked if he expected to be part of Slipstream’s top-tier team in 2012. “After Langkawi, Chann McRae (the development team’s manager) was saying that I could make the leap but I’m aware that it’s a different thing to ride up a hill really fast, and to race in the WorldTour. I said I’d wait and see how the first half of the season goes.”
That was in May but the plan has now been formalised. In 2012, he’ll race with Chipotle until September and then, a month shy of his 20th birthday, he’ll test himself as a stagiaire at Garmin-Cervélo. But he knows better than to believe results will come easily. He may have been sixth in Malaysia, seventh in Brazil, and third overall at the Tour of the Gila in the US shortly afterwards but going to the next level is a big step.
“No matter how supportive your team is or how good you are, the first year in the WorldTour is going to be really hard,” he admits. “I don’t think it would matter if I did it next year or two years down the track, I’m likely to get hammered… In one way, I’d like to just get that process out of the way earlier and just start getting the experience in those races.
“That way I can know the level of where I’ve got to be at by the time I’m 25. My body can adapt after that.”
He laughs at the thought of racing in Uruguay. Some might believe that, because it’s not part of the regular cycling circuit, it could be easy. No matter how prodigious a rider, there are always going to be lessons handed out in a race situation. The South American adventure was another reminder of that for Morton. “It’s strange because it’s Uruguay and everyone just seems to sit around drinking maté – they don’t seem to do too much else. But you go there to race and, all of a sudden, there’s 100 guys from Uruguay who are all so good! It’s like, what the hell goes on down here!? It was an awesome experience.”
You’d hope that an 18-year-old would feel a little intimidated by racing elite races, no matter where they are in the world. The progression of this young rider has, however, been so well managed that each step is another one taking him closer to the top of what has become his calling.
He wants to be a professional bike rider. And Morton is surrounded by people who appreciate his ability and the way he diligently goes about ticking off the to-do list. It seems to be a no-fuss approach but he is as meticulous as he is ambitious. The inspiration for cycling came by default; there is no family history but that doesn’t translate to lack of support. His father, David, has been instrumental in steering Lachlan in the right direction and nurturing his son’s talent and attitude.
Lachlan Morton has found himself in the right place at the right time. He enjoyed international success as a 15-year-old, winning a hill-climb title in Colorado and posting better times than experienced professional riders. And the progression has continued ever since. But it’s not about success at the expense of other things in life. Everything in moderation – that’s a good approach, and one employed by a young rider who has been fortunate enough to work with inspired people who care about the journey as much as the end result.
Beyond amazing family support, which included a program established by his parents, David and Annie, that nurtured young Australian talent and offered them a chance to train and race internationally, he had the benefit of experienced and passionate people in cycling. Graham Seers, a member of the Australian cycling team for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, owns a bike shop in Port Macquarie and he was the first to teach the Mortons about the intricacies of cycling. Then came the likes of Michael Drapac, owner of the Drapac cycling team, and that eventually led him to a meeting with Jonathan Vaughters – and each has contributed to the development of Lachlan as a rider.
The competitive nature he shares with his brother steered them to cycling. “We were meant to do go-kart racing,” he said about how he came to the sport. “Dad is really into motorsport, he had a lot to do with building the go-kart track in Port Macquarie. We were friends of a family with sons of a similar age who were also super-competitive… Our parents didn’t want us all to start go-karting at the same time; they thought we’d go so hard that we’d kill each other on the track.
“We linked up with ‘Seersey’, who Dad knew through the community. For Gus and I, he was like a second dad. We’d go away racing and there’d be times when we’d spent four or five weeks travelling around doing races with Graham. We were really close and he’s the main reason we got so involved.”
Seers has never left the sport he did at the elite level in the 1980s. He is a pioneer of cycling in the Mortons’ home town and his influence has helped make it an accepted part of life in the seaside haven of Port Macquarie. “When I started, there were about 20 guys riding regularly but in the next three years the junior section of the club grew massively,” said Morton. “It was encouraged at schools and then, all of a sudden, we had about 10 mates who raced bikes as well.
“We’d ride to together in the mornings three or four times a week. The club grew to over 100. A-grade was strong; it was hard racing and a lot of good guys came through the ranks like Brendan Brooks, Chris Jory and Jason English… we all fed off each other. We had a really good training group. Obviously there was also my brother – we always trained together.”
The Morton Story hinges on both Gus and Lach and what they could do on a bike. As juniors they enjoyed the racing and were given a pass to competition that was backed by their dad and a program he established called Real Aussie Kids. It exists today under the management of others but it was established to give the brothers a chance to train and race further afield than Port Macquarie. Together with Seers, David Morton started a team in 2004 after an idea was hatched when the family saw the Tour de France while on holiday.
“In 2003 we went to Spain and France,” explained Lachlan. “We watched some of the Tour and it was just Gus, myself and another young kid from Port Macquarie. They saw the value that we got out of being somewhere else and riding our bikes. And that gave birth to the whole idea of taking not a big group, but about eight or so guys, overseas and slowly prepping them for the life of being a professional bike rider.
“I find that riding your bike is the easiest bit about being a professional. Everything else seemed more difficult, right down to keeping things clean… that sort of stuff. The Real Aussie Kids program also had a big focus on school work. For me, that was a big part in my development. It made the transition from being a junior bike rider to a professional a lot easier.”
The Real Aussie Kids program arranged travel to the States and accommodation in Colorado for six weeks each year. The young riders would train and race in the US and get a taste of what life as a pro bike rider might be like.
There is a popular race up Mount Evans that is contested as a mass start; it’s 45km long and rises over 2,000m in altitude. There are various grades but everyone does the same course. In 2007, Gus and Lach finished fifth and sixth, respectively. They were 18 and 15. Tom Danielson was the winner that year and the honour roll also includes Ned Overend, Alexi Grewal, Scott Moninger and Jonathan Vaughters – a triple winner.
It was results like this that elevated the Mortons’ status even though they were only juniors. “For a while there was an assumption that they made a mistake with the timing,” said Lachlan, “but we went to the higher category the next weekend and Gus and I were still right up high in the results again.
“That was a big thing that gave us a bit of a rep over there.”
American culture does hype things differently to how it’s done in Europe. If they had done something similar elsewhere, it might not have gained the same attention but it offered the boys a chance to mix it with the established men of the sport. Although the brothers were good, their success didn’t always work in their favour. “To start with, they didn’t really like the Real Aussie Kids going there to race,” explained Gus about the early years of the program. “We started racing in the juniors and we were taking wins and that was the wrong way of going about building a long-term relationship there.
“We then started racing in the senior category which was better for us and, by the end, they loved having us there.”
David Morton initially wanted to have enough sponsorship so that he didn’t have to put in any more money himself. “He wanted it to become a self-sustaining thing that could be passed on to another group of parents of younger riders,” said Lachlan. “In 2010 there was a camp in Boulder and we had the kids over in July but this year was the first time we didn’t have the full-on camp. It’s a shame but Real Aussie Kids is still existing here and it’s got the same idea about it.”
These are exciting times for Australian cycling with a team poised to make its debut in the WorldTour in 2012. GreenEdge is sure to provide a career path for riders who might otherwise have been forced to compete with foreign formations. But the strong bond that had been forged with Slipstream Sports over the years is not diminishing, even if the Aussie involvement there is different now to what it was like at the start of 2011.
Matt White has moved on as a directeur sportif of Garmin-Cervélo (after being sacked at the start of the season) but Allan Peiper has arrived. Jack Bobridge, Brett Lancaster, Cameron Meyer, Travis Meyer and Matt Wilson have all transfered from Vaughters’ squad to the new Australian one. But Nathan Haas has been recruited by the US team, Steele van Hoff is going to join his former Genesys team-mate at Slipstream’s European base in Girona, Spain (albeit as part of the development squad in 2012, with a view to moving to the top tier in 2013).
And Lachlan Morton’s progression will continue under the guidance of Vaughters, McCrae and, ultimately, Peiper.
Gus has retired from cycling after racing with the Drapac team for a couple of seasons; he now works with Kirk Docker – the brother of GreenEdge recruit Mitch Docker – at media company Zapruder’s Other Films. “I’m still interested and it’s great to see Lach doing what he loves,” said the older Morton brother, “but I wanted to try something else.”
Lach quietly goes about his business racing his bike around the world, listening to sage advice, and ignoring the traditional route to the WorldTour. One Australian cycling benefactor has been an influence and he’s grateful for the input from Michael Drapac, owner of the Drapac Professional Cycling team.
“I get along really well with Michael. The connection came about because he liked the Real Aussie Kids idea,” said Lach. “He got in contact with Dad and they set it up so that Drapac was a sponsor. It’s a similar idea in that we had a real focus on the school side of things and Drapac has the educational aspect of the pro team. They also had similar ideas about bike riding and it was also separate from what the AIS was doing. Angus started riding with Drapac and I met Michael through that.
“He’s got very strong feelings about what he believes in and he’s on the ball. Initially the plan was for me to go and ride with Drapac, when I came out of the junior category. Then the opportunity came to ride in the States and I took it.”
With the Chipotle development team scheduled to spend more time in Europe in 2012, Lachlan is likely to get a taste of yet more cultures while still in his teens. It’s all experience and he’s enjoying what is proving to be an interesting ride through life. “I’m super happy with where I am. I’ve got the chance with Slipstream Sports to further my career. That’s a situation that’s come about through Jonathan and Chann and I want to keep following that. I don’t want to move if I don’t have to.
“There’s this hype about an Australian team and a belief that the obvious option is to follow that direction. It’s set up for the AIS guys but when it comes to me there’s no connection.” In five years it could be a different case, and we’ll follow what promises to be a compelling journey with interest.
– By Rob Arnold
* * * * *
RIDE Media publishes both the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition) as well as RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.