Lachlan Morton is no stranger to the podium at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. In 2013, while riding for Garmin-Sharp, the then-21-year-old soloed away on the final climb of stage 4 from Richfield to Payson to win alone and take the yellow jersey, which he kept until teammate Tom Danielson took it two days later on the Queen stage to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
Now 24 and after taking time out from the highest level of the sport, Morton is riding for US Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis. The Australian climbing prodigy is aiming for the overall podium at the seven-day 2.HC race that starts Monday. He will serious opposition from 2015 winner Joe Dombrowski and his strong Cannondale-Drapac team plus riders from the BMC, IAM Cycling and Trek-Segfredo WorldTour teams.
"We've prepared really well, and I'll try and go for a podium this week," he told Cyclingnews Saturday evening at the team presentation in Cedar City.
"That's the goal. It’s a pretty similar start to three years ago when we had it here," he said. "It's got the same stage over to Payson. I think there will be a bit of a shake up there, for sure. It’s a really hard climb."
This year will be Morton's fourth Tour of Utah, and so he knows there will be plenty of hard climbing, with multiple ascents that top out over 3000 meters, throughout the week. The biggest test will come in the final two days, with the Queen stage on Saturday and the final test on Sunday that starts and finishes in Park City.
Over those two days the riders will climb Guardsman Pass, Little Cottonwood Canyon and Empire Pass, among others. Since the Tour of Utah became a UCI race in 2010, it has always been decided on stage six or stage seven.
"The winner will be decided on the weekend," Morton said. "The climb to Snowbird really decides the race."
A return to the WorldTour after a successful 2016?
Morton is obviously hoping the decision will go in his favour this year. He's coming off a stage win and second overall at the Cascade Cycling Classic last weekend in Bend, Oregon, and he also finished seventh on the Queen stage of the Tour of California after briefly leading up the final climb of Gibraltar Road with Trek-Segafredo's Peter Stetina. His biggest result this year, however, was his overall victory at the Tour of the Gila in May.
Morton's improved form and results put him near the top of the favourites list for this week's race, and he says he's never worked harder to prepare.
"It's always hard to know before the race, but I've trained harder than I've ever trained before and I've prepared better than ever before, so I hope that shows in the race," he said.
Back on the winning track, Morton is hoping to add more results to his palmares in hopes of getting another shot at the WorldTour.
"That would help, I'm sure," he said when asked if a top result in Utah could punch his ticket back to cycling's upper echelon. "You'd probably have to ask the teams that. You'd probably have to ask the teams what they want, but this is a big opportunity for our team to race against some of the best guys in the world. And every time you've got a chance like that you've got to grab it, so we're all well prepared and motivated, and we just want to have a good race."