Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lady Luck Eludes Australian After a Strong Spring Campaign

Written by Rebecca Reza

On Thursday, midway through the stage, Lachlan Morton of Team Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis was forced to abandon the AMGEN Tour of California due to a concussion sustained in a late crash on stage 4. The crash was the result of a front tire blowout heading into the final kilometers of Laguna Beach. California was the biggest goal of the season for both Morton and the team.

Jelly Belly Lachlan MortonJelly Belly's Lachlan Morton.  Photo by Oran Kelly/Eibhir

 

Posting on his Instagram, Morton reassured fans, “Devastated to pull out of Cali today, apparently I have some sort of concussion. Been an amazing first half of the season with Jelly Belly. I’ll be back. ;)”

Morton had enjoyed a strong spring campaign, arriving in California after winning the overall classification at the Tour of Gila, one of the most prestigious stage races on the domestic calendar. He had ridden away from his domestic rivals, winning the first steep stage up Mogollon with impressive fashion, gaining over a minute lead that he held through the end.

“This [Gila] has always been my favorite race on the US calendar,” Morton said at the end of the week at the Gila. “To win it means a lot to me, it’s one of those ones that has sort of eluded me and I finally got it! I’ve been threatening a big win like this for the last year and a half. Everything came together.”

Lachlan MortonJust before the podium ceremonies after winning the Gila, wearing the leader's jersey. Photo by Rebecca Reza

Over the winter, Morton had returned to basics for training and was happy the results were showing.

“I spent three months back in Australia in my hometown and did a lot of riding,” Morton explained. “When I came back to America, I’ve been training a bit harder and been more focused. It’s been more consistent than the past few years.”

Morton left the WorldTour in 2014, on his own accord, after winning the best young rider classification at both the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2013. At the Tour of Utah that same year, he also earned an impressive solo victory on stage 3 at age 21. The talent was obvious but the various stresses and being away from home strained his desire and passion for bike racing. He returned to Australia after the 2014 season to reassess his career and get back to enjoying being out on the bike. Hoping to race domestically in North America, his wish was granted after he signed with Jelly Belly in the following spring, along with his brother Angus Morton.

Earlier this month in Silver City, Morton’s talent was once again on display as he was reminded of the joy racing brought him.

Winning is exhausting - on Mogollon (Stage 1 Tour of the Gila)Winning is exhausting - on Mogollon (Stage 1 Tour of the Gila). Photo by Rebecca Reza

“I am a bit more mature,” Morton said of his performance. “I know how to prepare myself a little bit better and I am enjoying the process of training and racing now. This is the first time I’ve really felt that I’m ready to go back to Europe. I haven’t felt that way in a number of years.

“I’m really looking forward to California,” he added. “Being one of the small teams you have to take opportunities when they come. I’m definitely looking at Santa Barbara [Queen stage], we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed I’ll have a good ride there.”

The young Australian arrived in San Diego with big goals to finish high on the general classification in Sacramento, reaching some of the same success he had hit while racing with WorldTour team Garmin-Sharp. Instead, those goals were dashed as lady luck eluded him.

Speaking before the Queen stage finish up Gibraltar Rd, Morton was a little nervous but ready for the big day.

“A little bit of nerves is good,” Morton said with a smile. “It means something to you. You can talk all you want about it, but at the end of the day the results tell the story in the end. It’s pretty straight forward when it’s a summit finish like this. There are only nerves when you wonder whether you can do it or not. That question answers itself as soon as you hit the climb. After today we reassess everything. If I blow up and lose 10 minutes, I’ll be looking to get into breakaways, if I do a good ride then everyday becomes important.”

Heading up Gibraltar Rd to the summit finish, his team had set him up well as Morton launched an attack from the lead GC group in the final kilometers. Ultimately, the attack failed after the new race leader, Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx-Quick Step flew up past him and Peter Stetina of Trek-Segafredo to win the stage. Morton ended up 7th on the stage, and on GC as well.

Disappointed was evident at the finish but overall he remained optimistic.

Morton reassess his goals, disappointed after finishing 7th on Stage 3Morton reassess his goals, disappointed after finishing 7th on Stage 3. Photo by Rebecca Reza

“If you told me at the start of the week I would have been 7th, I would have taken it,” Morton said. “Just knowing the legs I had today, was real opportunity there. I’d rather lay it out there than get to the finish and think I should have or could have attacked.”

Perhaps it was foreshadowing going back to his words before stage 3, but the race blew up for Morton the next day - literally. While making a left turn into the final climb before the descent to the finish, his front tire blew sending him crashing to the pavement. Slow to get up, two teammates waited as he received a new bike. At the end of the day he had lost just over ten minutes, losing all hopes for the GC. Though he started the next day, devastation was soon to follow when he abandoned.

“I’ve been racing bikes since I was 8 years old,” Morton said prior to stage 3. “At the end of the day it’s a bike race. You can’t worry too much about who’s in it or who you’re going to beat or get intimidated because bike racing although everyone is out there, it’s very much a personal thing. Everyone deals with it their own way.”

Without their GC leader, the team will surely be looking for stage wins through the end of the race. For Morton, California will come again. For now, there is the Tour of Utah in August as the next big objective for the season.

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