Lachlan Morton (Garmin Sharp) earns some kisses from the podium girls at the USA Pro Challenge after taking the overall lead on stage 2
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Another high-altitude leader's jersey for Garmin Sharp Australian
"No problem" reads the small Colorado vanity plate attached beneath Lachlan Morton's saddle and it was with equally understated aplomb that the 21-year-old Australian explained how he rode himself into the USA Pro Challenge leader's jersey in Breckenridge, Colorado, today, a town near and dear to his heart.
The rail-thin Garmin Sharp rider nearly duplicated his double from the Tour of Utah 12 days ago when he soloed to victory in stage 3 and took over the leader's jersey. This time he had to "settle" for just the yellow jersey as Mathias Frank (BMC) accelerated away from Morton over the summit of the day's final KOM - Boreas Pass, 4km from the finish line - and held off the Australian by three seconds to claim the stage win.
Nonetheless, Morton's eight-year relationship with Breckenridge paid dividends as he attacked the finale on a route he's intimately acquainted with.
"It's incredible," said Morton. "I've been coming here since I was 13, so, yeah, eight years or something. So to ride into town on the front was really cool, and to pull on the yellow jersey was awesome as well.
"To start with I thought it was going to be an advantage knowing the last hill, but I think maybe it was better not to know what was coming because I knew how hard it was going to be. But I left everything out there."
So how did a young Australian find himself in Breckenridge?
"My dad started working in America, and he was working in Denver, but I think he wanted to sell us on Colorado a little more so he brought us to the mountains. Breckenridge is one of the most beautiful towns in all of Colorado. So as soon as we came here we loved it, and every summer we'd put our hands up to come back.
"Then there was a junior Australian team I was riding with that started to have training camps here every summer so I'd always put my hand up and come over. And even since then when I started riding for Garmin with the development team, whenever I'd get the chance to have a few weeks training I'd always come here because it's relaxed, it's a really nice community.
The final sting in the tail on the USA Pro Challenge's longest stage, 202.9km and featuring first an ascent of Independence Pass (12,095 ft.) and then Hoosier Pass (11,500 ft.), was a feature Morton knew would be pivotal.
"It's tucked away there, you wouldn't really know it except for the fact they're sending the race up there," said Morton. "But I was up here a couple of weeks ago and had the chance to look at it and when I saw it I thought 'this is probably going to be difficult'. If the race was at sea level it wouldn't be such a major thing but when it's something so steep you have to make such an intense effort and as Mathias was saying it's impossible to recover.
Morton was part of a 15-man break which escaped late in the stage, prior to the ascent of Hoosier Pass, and the Garmin Sharp rider was thinking about stage victory when he attacked the break and rode over Hoosier Pass alone, and was eventually caught by Frank and Lawson Craddock (Bontrager).
"The break wasn't working so well, but in the end I got the go ahead to have an attack and go for it and then I sort of started to think about the stage but not really the jersey, but I'll take it. It's still amazing."
While Morton would lose his Tour of Utah leader's jersey to Chris Horner on the penultimate stage, Morton's teammate Tom Danielson took it back on the final day. For Morton a similar scenario here would suit him just fine.
"This is my first season as a professional, so it's (leader's jersey) already an achievement in itself. The team we have there's definitely some stronger guys in there. The goal is to have someone on the team on top of the podium in Denver, so whichever way we can facilitate that."
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