There’s a common thread in the upper echelons of bicycle racing. The superstars of the sport forge reputations and careers in a few events that capture global attention each year.
The biggest races, like the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España, usually become the most significant launchpads world-class road racers use to cement their names into cycling history.
There are many other races that contribute to a rider’s clout over the course of a career. But results are the key factor that drives careers forward. Historically, success in cycling and the considerable financial rewards that can come with it usually hinged on success in a handful of venues. Riders like Jonas Vingagaard, Tadej Pogacar, Alejandro Valverde, and Peter Sagan, to name only a few cycling superstars, have all developed their careers through that crucible.
But as the screws have tightened over the years in the pro circuit, funneling ever more money and esteem into traditional venues, teams, and goals, a new kind of professional rider has emerged. These athletes garner stage wins and general classification victories in the world’s biggest races. But they also capture the imaginations of sports fans globally.
No one embodies this new breed of athlete more than Lachlan Morton. Morton has spent the last several years embarking on a series of truly epic rides and races. These efforts eschew the traditional mindset of what the life of a pro rider looks like.
Rather than a strictly regimented lifestyle and a calendar stacked with exclusive events for only the most elite athletes, Morton has created a path of adventure. He has shown riders and fans that now, more than ever, the path of pro riders isn’t necessarily paved.
Lachlan Morton: Off the Beaten Path
Morton, 30, has been a pro cyclist for about a decade, and he’s no stranger to the traditional road circuit. He came up through amateur and development teams before turning pro in 2013. He competed in a litany of high-profile races, often winning or placing high.
His traditional accolades include overall GC wins in New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila and the Tour of Utah in 2016. He raced in the Vuelta in 2017 with Team Dimension Data. After transferring to Team EF Education in 2019, he suited up for the Giro d’Italia 2020 race.
Even just competing in these events is a profound accomplishment by any measure, but these are not the reasons Morton’s name has become one that almost any cyclist would recognize. What he does outside of those traditional venues inspires so many.
Morton is the first person to broadcast that he doesn’t like to consider himself a particularly competitive person these days. While he has and does compete at the top tier of cycling, he often says he prefers to enjoy experiences and push himself in different ways.
In 2019, EF Education First and Rapha helped make that dream a reality by launching the Alternative Calendar, of which Lachlan Morton was a key participant.
The Alternative Calendar
The alternative race calendar launched Morton and a handful of EF teammates into a race season that placed EF’s pros in the mix for some of the world’s most popular mixed discipline races. This was a significant change for a WorldTour team. The calendar included a wide list of events, including gravel, mountain bike, and cyclocross races, among others.
Unlike the grand tours, these races are in large part open to the public and don’t come with a substantial prize purse. As a result, most pros didn’t really have a reason to compete in them. They have more established UCI WorldTour races that are critical to their careers. The cost of getting hurt or being out of shape for a big race where UCI points and big money are on the line is just too much.
But what these races lack in monetary gain or UCI rankings, they make up for in their importance to the cycling community and the local communities that host them. For Morton, these races included: the Garmin Dirty Kanza 200, now known as Lifetime’s Unbound Gravel; the legendary Leadville 100 MTB Race, also known as “The Race Across the Sky;” Three Peaks cyclocross, widely considered one of the hardest cyclocross events in the world; and the GBDuro, an unsupported four-stage race from the bottom to the top of the UK over more than 1,200 miles.
These races are all known for their difficulty and hold a special place in the cycling zeitgeist as bucket-list events. Most would be happy to attempt, if not finish.
Morton outright won the GBDuro by a wide margin, placed third in the Leadville 100, and fourth in both the Dirty Kanza and Three Peaks that year. But the results aren’t really the message. Most pro races involve joy only when the results are good. The Alternative Calendar introduced an element of fun to what can otherwise seem like a sport of profound suffering.
In 2021, following a year in which nearly every major cycling event in the world shut down due to the pandemic, Lachlan Morton headed to South Africa to take on the Cape Epic two-man team mountain bike race. Morton’s expected partner for the ride, his EF teammate Alex Howes, was unable to compete in that race due to a gnarly broken finger. Morton instead headed to the start line with Kenneth Karaya of Kenya.
One key aspect of Cape Epic is that pairs of riders must cross the finish line together to get an official finish time. That makes for a unique give-and-take among riders who have to work together over eight days of racing.
The pair formed a tight bond as they fought their way to a 35-place finish out of 247 competitors. They capped off the experience by purchasing land in Kenya to establish a new cycling school.
More Records and Races
Speaking of suffering, Lachlan Morton also is a pro in that category. Coming off the first rendition of the 2019 Alternative Calendar, Morton set his mind to beating the record for “Everesting.”
Everesting is the simple act of riding a bike up a single hill over and over again until you gain 29,029 feet of elevation, which is the height of Mount Everest. The endeavor gained popularity early in the pandemic as solo rides became about the only way riders could keep form amid global lockdowns.
Morton spent 7:29:57 riding up and down a roughly 656-foot hill in Colorado to claim the record. The effort took 47 laps. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that he attempted the record the week before and only missed the mark due to an error in his tracking equipment. To seal the deal, he repeated the effort the next weekend. No big deal.
Like the Alternative Calendar events, it was another astonishing accomplishment that was not solely a competition for professional cyclists.
“Anyone can go and do it,” Morton told NPR. “It’s accessible. You just need a hill.”
Lachlan Morton’s FKT Attempts
Lachlan Morton’s trajectory and passion continued to thrust him into ultra-long rides. But he also set his sights on setting the fastest known times on some of the most serious trail networks in the world.
In 2019, Morton attempted to set the fastest time on the Colorado Trail, a grueling 567-mile slog through the Rocky Mountains that takes most riders weeks to traverse. He finished the entire trail in 3 days and 22 hours, 2 hours behind the standing record.
Not to be outdone, Morton returned earlier this year to improve his time and pay homage to fellow cyclist Sule Kangangi. Kangangi died following a crash during the Vermont Overland gravel race in August. In addition to completing the extremely technical trail in just 3 days and 10 hours, he also raised more than $12,000 for Kangangi’s family.
In 2020, the same year Morton snagged the Everesting record, he tackled Utah’s Kokopelli Trail. The Kokopelli runs for nearly 150 miles with around 15,000 feet of elevation gain connecting Moab, Utah, to Loma, Colorado.
Morton flew through the trail to finish in 11 hours and 14 minutes, nearly 40 minutes ahead of the previous record set by Kurt Refsnider. Refsnider returned to reclaim the title later that year, followed by Peter Stetina, who brought the time down to 10:24:43 in 2021.
The Tour de France Alt Tour: Lachlan Morton at the Limit
Morton embarked on another grand adventure in 2021 on the periphery of the Tour de France. As his teammates duked it out in the peloton, Morton bikepacked the entire route alone, including the transfers between stages. He supported himself for more than 2,000 miles across France. This mirrored the early riders of the tour, with a goal of beating the peloton to Paris.
The “Alt Tour” served as a nostalgic look back to the roots of the tour, coupled with an awe-inspiring effort by Morton. Due to foot pain, he completed much of the ride in modified sandals he fashioned on the fly.
The 2021 Tour de France included 21 stages over 23 days for a total distance of 2,121 miles. Athletes in the Tour de France benefit from doctors, chefs, strategists, support cars, spare bikes, parts, and warm beds to sleep in. Morton had none of it.
In Rapha’s film about The Alt Tour, Morton said the ride would be the hardest thing he’d attempted by a significant margin.
Throughout the Alt Tour and Alternative Calendar, Morton spent a lot of time interacting with local spectators and riders. This is unique considering the level of difficulty of the task at hand.
Overall, Morton rode a total of more than 3,400 miles over 18 days and raised half a million euros for World Bicycle Relief.
Ambition and Activism
With a laundry list of high-profile rides under his belt, Lachlan Morton has paired his pursuits with meaning and purpose.
Cycling seemed to be far from relevant for many when news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine hit the globe in February 2022.
But less than a month after fighting began, Morton had already hopped on his bike for a 660-mile push from Munich to the Ukrainian border. He wanted to show the world that the war was not as far away as it seemed. Morton stopped only once to recharge for fewer than four hours and completed the ride in about 45 hours.
Morton’s ride helped raise more than $200,000 for Ukrainian refugees who had been pouring out of the country by the thousands to escape violence.
Russia’s invasion has impacted Morton’s life in more ways than one. He had been on pace to attempt his greatest challenge yet in 2023: attempting the fastest known time to ride around the world. That record currently belongs to Mark Beaumont, who accomplished the more than 18,000-mile feat in 2017 in 78 days, 14 hours, and 40 minutes.
Since the route runs directly through Russia, Morton’s effort has been scuttled, at least for now. But he is sure to have something tremendous up his sleeve heading into the new year.
Lachlan Morton Is the Outlier at the Top
It seems that Lachlan Morton has undergone something of a professional renaissance since first stepping into the Alternative Calendar in 2019. He carries obviously immense talent and drive yet manages to retain profound levels of sincerity and authenticity. He always seems to struggle with the space between his competitive side and his more altruistic identity, which is more of an “along for the ride” type.
Cyclists know how much suffering is involved in rides like the ones Morton has taken on in the last four years. But it’s hard to get a sense of exactly how hard some of these things are when the guy doing them exudes joy and appreciation for the sole fact that he gets to have such amazing experiences.
Unlike many elite racers, Morton doesn’t stick to one discipline. He spends as much time on singletrack and gravel as he does on the road and even throws in a hefty sum of bikepacking.
And that’s the real story. People see in Morton a love for bikes that many may have lost since younger days when they were stronger, braver, or dreaming of greatness.
For Lachlan Morton, it’s not that the results don’t matter. They just seem to be far from the only thing he is chasing.