Outback trip leads Morton brothers to Jelly Belly

After almost quitting the sport, Lachlan Morton and brother Angus sign with US Continental team

At first glance, the news that Lachlan Morton and his older brother Angus signed for 2015 with the US Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis may be surprising.

Lachlan, 22, rode for Garmin-Sharp the past two seasons and has long been viewed as one of the most promising young riders in cycling, while Angus, 25, hasn't raced professionally in four years. The seemingly unorthodox move to Jelly Belly is just the latest leg of a journey the Australian brothers began last winter with a 2,500km bike trip across the Australian outback.

Lachlan has been groomed for cycling's top level since adolescence, winning the prestigious Tour l'Abitibi as a junior and signing with Garmin feeder program Holowesko Partners when he was just 18 years old. He famously placed seventh overall at the 2010 Tour of Utah while restricted to junior gearing, and he was sixth overall at the 2011 Tour of Langkawi. He moved to the WorldTour with Garmin-Sharp in 2013 and quickly planted himself at the front of the peloton, especially when the roads turned upward, wearing yellow briefly at both the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

Angus was also a highly touted young rider, competing in the World Championships at 16 and signing his first pro contract with the Drapac-Porsche Development Team in 2008 when he was just 18. Angus rode with Drapac for three seasons through 2010, but when the season ended, Angus walked away from cycling with two contract offers on the table, saying that racing bikes no longer made him happy.

That's why Angus wasn't surprised when halfway through the 2013 season – Lachlan's first in Europe at the WorldTour level – the younger Morton confided to his brother that he was ready to quit the team and the sport altogether. Angus convinced Lachlan to stick it out for the rest of the season, and Lachlan went on to get some of his best results with the team later that August.

Looking for inspiration and invigoration following the season, Lachlan returned to Australia and set out with Angus to ride across the outback from Port McQuarie inland to Urulu. The 12-day, 2,500km trek is chronicled in a short film titled "Thereabouts," depicting the simple joy the brothers experienced while riding together into the wilderness, pushing each other physically and cajoling with the locals they met in the small towns along the way.

The ride had its desired effect on Angus, who continued riding regularly and began competing again in regional and even national events. But for Lachlan, it only reminded him of how far afield bike racing had strayed from what made him happy. There's a moment in "Thereabouts" when Lachlan, who admitted spending only 12 hours with his older brother over the entire previous year, talks about coming to grips with how unhappy the life of a globe-trotting European pro had made him.

"I have a girlfriend of a couple years, and we're really close. I really love her," Morton says in the film, which had its first US screening last week in Portland, Oregon.

"But there'll be times in the season when you're compromising things and you're really putting bike riding first, like I really need to do this," he said. "And you're like, 'Maybe this would be easier if I didn't have a girlfriend.' And then as soon as I say that I'm like, 'What the fuck are you talking about, man? That's like all you've got, you know. That's the best thing you have. You're fucking out of touch.' And then all of the sudden you realise, yeah, I am out of touch."

Despite his misgivings, Lachlan returned for his second season with Garmin-Sharp this year but his results suffered. Over 41 race days in 2014, his best finish came at the Herald and Sun Tour in February, when he was 36th on the first stage. Lachlan competed in his last race with Garmin-Sharp at the Tour of Beijing in October, dropping out during stage 5.

Lachlan Morton recently told Cyclingnews in an email exchange that he and Angus decided sometime in August or September that they would try something new with their cycling careers next season, mixing in some thereabouts-style adventures with their training and racing to keep morale high. Determined to race together in 2015, the brothers sought out a team that would sign them both, and Jelly Belly's Danny Van Haute answered the call.

"Initially it was simply because they would have us both," Lachlan said. "Now I'm really happy with the decision because they understand I want to do things a little differently but are behind me to compete at the top level. It's awesome."

Van Haute said Jelly Belly can provide a good place for Lachlan to race and live at a less frenetic pace before returning to the sport's top level, if that's what he wants.

With Lachlan's and his brothers' spots on the team secured and plans for a few new "micro journeys" being considered, Lachlan is getting excited about racing again. His goals for the season reach well beyond results, however; there's more to win next season than a spot on a podium and a kiss on the cheek.

"I want to find my racing legs and head," Lachlan Morton said. "I want to see Gus ride at his full potential. I want to involve my family and friends in my life. I want to take on a new adventure and keep my eyes open. I also want a US visa. Actually, I want that the most."

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