After finishing sixth overall in his debut at the 2011 Tour de Langkawi, Lachlan Morton (Chipotle-First Solar) felt he had some unfinished business to settle when he made his planned return to the Malaysian race this year.
The dream of a podium, or even arriving in Kuala Lumpur in the yellow jersey seemed not improbable for the 20-year-old, who Jonathan Vaughters has tipped as a future Tour de France winner. Claims that are not so farfetched when you consider he distanced Alpe d’Huez stage winner Pierre Rolland (Europcar) on the toughest climb of the 2011 race to Genting Highlands, and terrorised Francesco Mancebo in his successful stint in the US.
But just months out from the Langkawi start, the race organisation received interest from the ProTeam, Garmin-Barracuda, and under the same UCI regulation that ruled out both Trek-Livestrong and Chipotle from last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Chipotle’s invitation was rescinded – forcing Morton to rewrite his plans for the 2012 season.
"It was a blow for sure," Morton explained to Cyclingnews. "[Langkawi] was the race I was really looking forward to doing this year.
"The team was disappointed, but I was really disappointed personally as well.
"It’s a race I think is really well suited to me, with the altitude, and I was definitely looking forward to having a real crack this year."
Perhaps the silver lining for the Australian is the prospect of racing in Europe, with Chipotle basing themselves out of Toulouse in 2012 to give riders a better taste of the professional culture on the continent.
For Morton it’s an opportunity he welcomes considering he’s rarely made the trip across the Atlantic to race in his so far short but flourishing career.
"It’s a sort of rite of passage this year," said Morton. "I wouldn’t have felt completely confident going forward [into the WorldTour] without a year in Europe.
"I’ve raced maybe 10 days in Europe in my entire career and I think we all felt it would’ve been hard to make the jump up to the WorldTour without that experience.
"I’m happy to pay my dues, and eat dirt in the gutter, suffering it out. I’m happy to do that, and I’m happy that that’s what I need to progress."
No complaints, no duress, at 20 Morton already has spades of the requisite determination needed to go professional, and his eyes are only focused on what’s ahead.
Late season objectives
With Langkawi no longer in the picture, and his early season now committed to helping out teammates in the block of flatter and windier racing in Belgium, Morton is basing his year around success in July, August and September.
"I’ve had a slower start to the year on purpose, hopefully that’ll make me fresher for those more climbing-focused races – Volta a Portugal, Colorado [USAPCC] later in the year."
Assuming all goes well; Morton hopes his performances will give him a berth in the Australian national team for the Tour de l’Avenir, or even the world championships in Holland, but having had little contact with the national team since moving to the Slipstream as a 17-year-old, he’s not holding his breath.
"L’Avenir is a race I would love to do, I really wanted to do it last year as well," said Morton. "I think If I knew I was doing it now in February – I’d be basing my season around it, but if you’re going to find out a fortnight ahead it makes things really hard.
"Hopefully I can at least get a look in though, that’d be great."
And finally there’s the big question, when will we see him make the jump into the WorldTour - with so many people talking highly of the Australian surely the step-up can't be far off?
"You’ve got to have a look at how this year goes, but at the moment we’re looking at how we might do it logistically. Where I may or may not ride as a stagiaire.
"If it all goes to plan I’ll be making my debut in the WorldTour next year."