Rapha have announced that EF-Education Nippo rider, Lachlan Morton, will embark on an alternative Tour de France, riding every single stage of the race (including transfers), completely unsupported. He aims to beat the peloton to Paris, as well as fundraise for World Bicycle Relief along the way.
Morton is a rider who isn’t afraid to do things differently. He’s gone against the grain throughout his career, embarking on alternative calendars including ultra-endurances races and mixed-terrain events. These endeavours have always been well supported by his team, EF Education-Nippo, and their clothing sponsor Rapha, as both parties hope to draw new audiences to the sport, resulting in growth and wider visibility.
The Roadmap produced by Rapha in 2018 highlighted the areas in which cycling could be improved to make the sport more entertaining and more accessible to fans. It examined the future of professional cycling, and was the driving force behind the British brand’s ambitions to partner with EF and change the face of professional cycling. Since then, both parties have looked for innovative ways to engage fans with cycling, and Lachlan’s ‘Alt Tour’ is a perfect example of this.
As if the Tour de France isn’t hard enough as it is, Morton will ride 2,400km and 15,000m of elevation more than the pro peloton, which is no mean feat. "When I agreed to do it, I didn't realise how much longer it was, to be honest," he explained.
His challenge is inspired by the inaugural Tour de France in 1903, meaning there won’t be any team cars, neutral service or post-race massages. Instead, Morton is going at it alone, with no support apart from what he can carry, and no buses to ferry him through the transfers between each stage. "It was it was much more of an adventure back then. There was a large sort of survival element," he says.
"I think I'll be sleeping outside more often than not," he tells us. "I'll be finding food where I can on the route. I've got the ability to cook my own meals with a little gas burner. It's pretty basic setup." Taking cycling back to its purest form, it will just be Lachlan and his bike on the route through France.
"Because of the last transfer up to Paris, everyone catches the plane out. I'll be riding an extra 700k to get there, so in order to be able to do that and get there on the same day as the race, I need to get ahead. So I'll be using the rest days to do that," he explained when discussing his plans.
“I’m excited to explore the origins of cycling and see for myself just how different the experience is,” Lachlan explains. “It’s a challenge that in many ways combines the two elements of cycling I have pursued the most, exploration and competition. Without intention I have essentially spent my whole life preparing for it. I know it’s going to be the most physically demanding ride I’ve undertaken but I anticipate the challenges of completing the route self-supported to be equally difficult.”
He will no doubt be cheering on his EF-Education Nippo teammates should he catch any glimpses of the race on his travels. They’re a squad that are known to make themselves seen, perhaps most famous for their duck-adorned race wear which made an appearance in last year’s Giro, a stunt which brought new audiences to the sport thanks to the collaboration with skateboarding brand, Palace.
When questioned if it would be easier for him to complete the distance with the rest of the peloton, Lachlan explained that the Alt Tour was more suited to him as a rider. "It's very stimulating and inspiring, because it's sort of fresh and new," he explains. "As much as I love racing, the pressure environment that's riding the Tour de France, I can't imagine dealing with that."
He's under no illusions that it will be easy, though. "I might have a very different views in three weeks time," he says. With his bike weighing almost double what it would normally thanks to bike bags and panniers, the climbing on the route will be a tough obstacle. "It's a very different challenge, you kind of have to switch your mindset," he says.
For most professional riders starting the Tour this year, their goal will be stage wins or the yellow jersey for themselves or their teammates, but for Morton, the end goal is much bigger. He’s aiming to raise money for World Bicycle Relief in his challenge, a non-profit organisation which provides specifically designed, locally assembled bicycles to those in need such as displaced survivors. They aim to provide better access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods while also reconnecting entire communities.
"I'm sure it's going to give me a bit of extra motivation in those dark moments," he says. "The reality is, if you're doing it purely for your own benefit or your own reasons, they tend to dry up pretty quick. So in a lot of ways, it's also beneficial for me to have a reason beyond just me seeing if I can do it."
Both Rapha and EF have donated 500 bicycles each to World Bicycle Relief, and anyone who wishes to support Morton’s huge challenge can make personal donations to the organisation. In total, he’ll ride 5,510 kilometres, amounting to 238 hours of ride time in 23 days, in his race estimation. It will be the Australian rider’s biggest challenge yet, he’ll find himself battling the mountains and crosswinds alone, with no peloton to shelter behind.
“In doing the ride I hope to celebrate the history of the Tour de France while broadening the ideas of what a bike tour of France can be,” Lachlan explained. “And in the process, we’re going to be able to help get more people on bikes and make their day-to-day travels better. That’s the best part about the whole thing.”
A Rapha Gone Racing film will be released in August this year, allowing fans an insight into the trials and tribulations which Morton will no doubt face in this ultimate test. If you'd like to follow the EF rider’s progress throughout the route, a Dot Watching page and tracking will be available to view here, powered by Follow My Challenge. It’s going to be a tough three weeks for Lachlan Morton, and we’ll be eagerly watching to see if he beats the peloton to Paris at the end of it.