There are few true iconoclasts in the world today. But when it comes to cycling, Lachlan Morton is undeniably one of them. After years as a WorldTour-level road racer, Morton has embraced the world of gravel and ultra endurance riding, and in doing so, has redefined what it means to be a professional. Needless to say, we were surprised to find that afternoon tea was one of the Australian's priorities when visiting London for the Rouleur Live event. After all, Morton can go for days and weeks without a home-cooked meal on his many bike-packing adventures. But then the 30-year-old never ceases to surprise. And it proved to be a perfect place to catch up.
Relaxing in Gatsby’s Room at The Beaumont in the heart of West London, Morton enjoyed traditional sandwiches like Devilled Egg and Coronation Chicken, but also the less-common Salt Beef Reuben. And when the two attacked the classic scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserves, they knew they had reached high-tea nirvana. And then there were the pastries, with the Yuzu cream pie and Mocha cake receiving particularly high marks.
I have to say that high tea was not something I expected to be up there on your priorities when visiting London.
Probably not, but it is just something that has always been on my bucket list of things to do. I am glad to finally have the chance!
It’s interesting to see how you have become such an iconoclastic figure in the sport. You started out as a traditional road cyclist, but you have now become one of the leading forces in the gravel and ultra scene. Obviously you have a big engine. You won a lot of big races coming up through the ranks as a junior and beyond. Obviously you have the physical makeup to be a professional roadie, but you have chosen otherwise...
I think I just didn’t have the head, in good ways and bad ways. I just couldn’t go to those places you need to go to in your head to do the WorldTour thing. I didn’t have the focus. The level is so high. The teams all ride the same way. It’s just a big fitness test. That aspect of the road didn’t speak to me.
It’s such a selfish pursuit. It comes at the expense of a lot of things, and I couldn’t make those sacrifices. I couldn’t deal with the single-mindedness that is needed. I could when I was younger, but I came to feel it was unhealthy. It served me well in terms of results, but it wasn’t good for the rest of my life. I remember getting results and then the same night crying in the shower because some things were still very unfulfilled. I learned that there was obviously something missing.
That’s interesting because I remember you rode the 2020 Giro d’Italia after the first wave of the pandemic in October, and you spoke of concentrating more on the road in 2021. But somewhere not long after, you made a clear break...
Already in 2019, the team started doing more races outside of the traditional road circuit. I really enjoyed it but at the same time I felt that I really needed to keep up with the road racing in case they pulled the mat out of the whole alternative scene. And then 2020 was a very weird year because of the pandemic. I was the only rider that was really doing anything, because of the Everesting Record or Kokopelli Trail record. And then just before the Giro that year I did Badlands.
Originally I was actually going to do an Alt Giro like I did for the 2021 Tour de France. But at the last minute I got put on the Giro squad for the team. Physically a three-week stage race is very different from something like Badlands and I wasn’t really prepared. I could help my team-mates out a bit, but I never really felt like I was in the race. That winter I started working with a coach again – for the first time in three years – and really tried to prepare for the 2021 road season, but when the season started, I realised I couldn’t do it any more. Fortunately, Jonathan Vaughters understood, and at the same time he also really saw the potential in other kinds of cycling. I give JV a lot of respect for that.
Not many cyclists came out of the pandemic as successfully as you. You reinvented yourself and even really helped to reinvent the sport in some ways during that very strange period...
Things were starting to fall into place even before Covid with the rise of gravel and all that. And the pandemic was a good time to reassess goals and measures of success. Up until that point my measure of success had always been the result. I would convince myself that getting 20th in the Tour of the Alps was somehow important. But I understand now that I am having much more of an impact on cycling by devoting the same amount of energy in other directions. I didn’t invent any of those disciplines. Ultra riding already existed, as did gravel, but I think coming into it as a seasoned professional, like I did, just brought a lot of attention to those disciplines. It attracted a lot of media attention.
In addition, I was fortunate that Rapha really got behind me and shot a lot of good films. A lot of things came together. It wasn’t like I came into it with a vision. For me, when I started the only rule was to be authentic. When I started looking at the alternative calendar, I only want ed to do events that really inspired me. I didn’t want to get into a situation like road racing where I had to show up for a race because the team wanted me there. When I do something it is because I really want to be doing it. But I think that the pandemic gave me the freedom to really be honest where my motivations were. And because there was nothing else on, I could do that. I think it also showed the team what was possible if we kept going down that rabbit hole.