Lachlan Morton has been running in the rain in North London. He’s in the Big Smoke for Rouleur Live 2022, one of a huge number of commercial appearances that have been on his schedule during the two weeks he’s had off riding his bike at the end of a busy season. Morton doesn’t like to be inside, and he doesn’t like not being active. No bikes? Running it is.
Having two weeks off cycling isn’t something that the 30-year-old has done the past few years, but this year he says that he needs it. “Mentally and physically, I've just done a lot. Even during the two weeks off the bike I had around 12 hours at home the whole time, so it's going to feel like a rest to just get home and ride,” he says with a wry smile.
For a long time, cycling was Morton’s whole life. He grew up with the dream of being a professional rider, and he made it, signing his first WorldTour contract in 2012. From then, it was about getting the results to stay there. Train, race, repeat. It’s what you have to do to stay competitive at the highest level of elite sport. For Morton, it became a battle.
“I always struggled with the purpose of it because it is a very selfish pursuit in a lot of ways. Also with the monotony. You weirdly spend a lot of time indoors,” he says, “There's a lot of things mentally I'm not cut out for and I'm aware of that now. My life's been a lot easier since I've just been honest with myself and said: actually, I don't think I can do that.”
When the Australian rider came to this realisation in 2020, life changed. It didn’t mean the end of the road for Morton’s career on a bicycle, but instead the start of a different, untrodden path on two wheels and one that has come to be much more important to the EF Education-EasyPost athlete than even he could have expected.
As his road racing calendar got smaller and smaller, Morton started ultra-endurance riding and racing, on and off-road, taking on crazy challenges to raise money for charity. This year, for example, in response to the war in Ukraine, Morton rode 1,063km in two days from Munich to the Poland/Ukraine border, raising over $200,000 for the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund along the way.
“I did that ride a few weeks after the war started. It was the start of the racing season and then this significant war broke out right next to Europe. It felt pretty trivial to be like, I'm going to go to training when there's such a bigger issue going on,” Morton explains.
“I thought about what I can do myself, and there's only one thing I can really do, which is ride bikes. I thought if I do the longest ride I've ever done in two days, that'll generate interest, and then maybe we can raise some money through the cycling community.”
Morton notes that as a professional cyclist, it can be easy to become completely encompassed with the world of racing, without always realising the sport’s importance on a wider scale. When he speaks about feeling selfish when he was a full-time road cyclist, this is what he means.
“Some of that attitude is necessary for top performers. It needs to be your world. I enjoy watching the Tour de France, and seeing the amazing performances. I don't think it needs to be a huge shift, but I think there's definitely space for more awareness of life,” he says.
“Cycling isn't the biggest thing in the world, but it is big enough that there is a community that could be engaged in bettering the world. I definitely think there's a lot of teams that should take more responsibility in identifying ways that they can use their athletes. Even if it's within just the cycling community to give back a bit just because a lot of those teams run off the back of an industry that is supported by people who are just participating. People taking on a bit more social responsibility, that would be nice to see.”
Morton explains that his ride to Ukraine was an eye-opening experience. He says that he saw citizens in Poland who were doing “real things”, bringing displaced people into their homes and delivering aid to and from the border. It was one of the first times that the Aussie rider had confronted the realities of war, noting that it gave some perspective on the ride he was doing in comparison to the hardships others are going through, making him question if he was doing enough.
This is who Lachlan Morton is. A deep thinker, someone who isn’t afraid to square up to reality, to question what is right or wrong. When I ask him why he likes doing these ultra-endurance rides, he explains that he thinks he has never had to feel true discomfort in his life and he knows how lucky he is. “I'm very aware that I had a great upbringing. I've never had a real hardship in my life, so I think a lot of it is trying to seek out something that makes you uncomfortable.”
It’s an impressive, acute level of self-awareness, and it’s what helps Morton push himself when things get tough. He tells a story from during his Alt Tour – where he rode every stage and every transfer of the Tour de France in 2021, covering a distance of 5,500km, climbing over 65,000 metres in 18 days and raising money for World Bicycle Relief – which perfectly exhibits this tenacity.
“I destroyed my knee on the first day and on the second day, I realised how far I still had to go. I was basically pedalling with one leg and I was never going to quit, but I was just like, this is really gonna suck to pedal on. It's going to be zero enjoyment,” Morton says. “There was a point I was like, maybe I'm going to have to stop for three or four days just to recover and then try to catch up again. But once I got that knee sorted, I loved it. There's so much enjoyment in it for me that the difficulty of it is minimised."
The best thing about Morton’s story in cycling so far is that despite realising he didn’t want to be a full-time road cyclist, he never lost his love for riding a bike. It was his own self-awareness which made him decide to stop racing in the WorldTour, saving his relationship with the sport, giving him the chance to keep doing what he loves in his own way, while inspiring others, too.
“I feel most like myself when I'm riding. I feel like I can think more clearly, I can be more present. All of those things, I can do better while I'm riding. So if I can spend more time doing it, genuinely, that results in just me being happier,” Morton says.
The Australian’s journey through cycling is perhaps a lesson to us all that the sport is always going to be bigger than just professional road racing and that we can all love cycling for what it brings to us personally. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the sport, and Morton is a living example of that.
“The thing is, I know I can ride at [WorldTour] level,” Morton says, “but I also know that to do that you have to sacrifice a lot of other things which I'm not willing to do. It's increasingly like you need to choose one or the other and if I have to choose, it's going to be everything outside of road cycling.”