Lachlan Morton interview: Youngest rider in Langkawi field shining against pro competitors
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lachlan Morton interview: Youngest rider in Langkawi field shining against pro competitors

by Shane Stokes at 4:42 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de Langkawi
 
Talented Australian rider showing great promise in Malaysia

Lachlan MortonIt’s notable that the Tour de Langkawi race leadership was held this week by a 42 year old, but what is even more impressive is the stunning ride by the Australian Lachlan Morton. He turned 19 years of age earlier this month and in his first race as an under 23 competitor, is underlining why he is regarded as one of the most promising young riders in cycling.

Racing with the Chipotle Development team but wearing Garmin-Cervélo jerseys until the new team kit arrives, Morton finished with the lead group on last Wednesday’s stage to the top of Cameron Highlands. He said prior to the mountain stages that he was looking forward to the wall-like ascent of Genting Highlands and impressed there, attacking with less than five kilometres to go and bridging across to French climber Pierre Rolland (Europcar). And while they were brought back, netting seventh on the stage and jumping up to sixth overall showed that he could mix it with the strongest climbers in the race.

“It went a bit better than my expectations,” he told VeloNation the day afterwards. “I always wanted to do well there – it is the sort of race that I believed would suit me. The team put faith in me and rode for me pretty much all day. When you get to the bottom of a climb like that and you haven’t really touched the pedals yet, I figured I’d better try and finish it off.”

The vast majority of those in the bunch headed south as the gradient kicked in, suffering on the torturous road up to the bizarre holiday resort at the summit. For Morton, a tall, light rider with a very good physiology, those slopes played to his advantage. Indeed had the conditions been slightly different, he might have stayed clear. “When it really ramped with less than ten kilometres to go, I still felt really good so I felt I would give it a try,” he explained. “It was a bit unlucky as that headwind sort of kicked up and the other guy [Rolland] didn’t want to work when I got to him. But I was still happy with the ride. It is always nice to be up overall too.”

It’s by no means the first time that Morton has ridden with flair against older competitors. The Port Macquarie rider took his first pro-ranked win at sixteen years of age when he triumphed in the 2006 Fort Collins event. Last season saw a number of impressive performances, not least his seventh overall in the Tour of Utah against the likes of Levi Leipheimer and Francisco Mancebo. The most notable aspect of the latter – aside from the performance itself, of course – was the fact that he was on restricted gearing of 52 x 14. He said afterwards that he had to put in extra effort due to being distanced on descents, but that lost energy didn’t prevent him from showing his talent on the climbs and in the time trial.

Competing against his own age group, Morton won the 2010 Tour de l’Abitibi. The UCI World Cup race is regarded as arguably the top junior stage race in the world and he took a road stage, the time trial and the overall general classification. In doing so he echoed the earlier victories of Taylor Phinney, Tyler Farrar, Laurent Jalabert and Alex Steida in the event.

However, despite that result plus his Utah performance, he was overlooked by the Australian selectors for the junior world championships.

Months later, he cites that disappointment as one reason why he wouldn’t be tempted to go to the new Green Edge setup. Others from the Garmin-Cervélo stable are rumoured to be on the wish list of the Australian outfit, but he’s staying put with the American squad’s feeder team.

“In Australia it is strange. Last year I missed out on doing the junior worlds with the national team and a few things like that,” he told VeloNation. “At the moment I am just thankful to these guys…they gave me the opportunity and I definitely want to stay… As far as development programmes go, this is the best there is, or the best I have seen. So there is no place I would rather be.

“Just because there are Australian teams out there, it doesn’t necessarily make them any better. And you are not going to turn your back on the people who gave you the opportunity to start with.”

The reason for Morton not being on the radar of the selectors as much as he might be could arguably be linked to his being based in the US. His father works in Denver, Colorado, and he lives in Boulder. He’s embraced the lifestyle there and feels that with the terrain, the people and his parents nearby, he’s in the ideal location.

Winters are completely different to those back home, of course, and so for that reason he headed back to Australia to prepare for the new season. As his performances over the past week have shown, he’s starting 2011 in excellent condition.

Malaysian finale and beyond:

Lachlan MortonThe Tour de Langkawi is heading towards the finale in Kuala Lumpur. In truth the main slash and shuffle of the general classification has been done now, and with the mountains receding fast in the rear-view mirror, the remaining flat stages should just cause minor tweaks in the GC.

Morton finished the eighth stage sixth overall, 29 seconds off the new race leader Jonnatha Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli). He is now five seconds off the fifth-placed rider, Rahim Emami (Azad University Cycling) and seventeen ahead of Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox). Barring mechanicals or other issues, he looks on course for a top ten finish in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

“The aim at the moment is about staying safe and making sure I don’t lose any time anywhere,” he explained. “But you never know – if the opportunity arises on the road, you are never going to turn it down. So you just have to stay up there and see how it goes.

“More or less, the aim is just to get through the next few stages. We have Raymond [Kreder] who is trying in the sprints, and we will always try to do something – we are an aggressive team so we will always go for breakaways. If I finish up with a top ten, it will be more than I was expecting. This is a really high level race…if you look at the names that are out there, there are a lot of good guys.”

Given that this is the first big race of the season, riding as well as he has been doing is a very promising sign for 2011. If he can keep building on this form, he knows the year should be a very good one. “Coming into this, I wasn’t really sure how I was going…it is hard to know when you have just been training by yourself in Australia,” he said, smiling. “This is encouraging because I haven’t really started any specific intensity training as of yet, so hopefully I can keep this going all year. At the moment it is a bit of a surprise, but I am happy with it.”

Next up for Morton is a trip back to his base in Colorado. He plans to train there for a month or so, then will return to competition. He’s not quite sure of his programme right now, mentioning a race in Uruguay as a possibility, but expects to compete in US-based races such as Redlands, the Tour of the Gila and others.

European competition is also on the cards. “There’s the Olympias Tour and a few of those races – I am looking forward to having a go at them,” he said. “They are not really that suited to me, but you have got to do it all.” The Under 23 worlds will presumably also be a big target, and he will aim to prove a point after not being selected for last year’s events.

What’s clear is that Morton is impressing greatly when he goes up against the big guns. It’s a very good sign for a rider so young, and yet he appears patient about what looks like being an excellent pro career. He’s content to bide his time, to make sure that he does things right, and to let his ability grow with age.

“I am happy to stay with these guys for another few years,” he said, referring to the Continental team. “There are certainly lots of aspects of riding I can still develop. Just because you can ride up the last 30 kilometres hill fast doesn’t mean that you can do everything else. I am in no rush – there’s certainly no pressure for me to make the jump [to the pro ranks].”

Garmin-Cervélo’s CEO Jonathan Vaughters can be pleased with that. He’s got one of the best young talents in the sport on his development team and, given time, he can aim to bring Morton on board to the pro squad and watch the fireworks happen. Top ten in a 2.HC event at nineteen suggests that much.

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