Morton finished his 2017 season at the Tour of Guangxi after starting the year in Australia at the national championships and Tour Down Under. His 79 race day season was the longest yet of his career. But that is precisely what the 25-year-old wanted after two years of riding in the USA with the Jelly Belly team.
"I asked the team to race as long as I could this year because the last few years I haven't that much, [and] I seem to get better the more I race," Morton told Cyclingnews of his first season to feature more than 50 race days. "This is about as long as you can race I think. I fly from here to training camp. It's been a long season but it has been fun."
A professional with the Slipstream team in 2013-14, Morton then spent two years with the American Continental Jelly Belly team. During his time with the squad, Morton was able to express himself on and off the bike, finding a balance in his life to contrast the demands of the WorldTour, documented in the ‘Thereabouts' films Morton and brother Gus have made in recent years.
Regardless of the miles racked by Morton in recent years, the 2017 season was always going to be a step up in quality. With his season stretching into late October, Morton explained he is yet to fully decompress and reflect on the year, but was able to assess what this season has taught him about himself.
"General perseverance. Either I was on or I was off. If everything was right, I was good," he reflected on the lessons learnt during 2017.
"If a few things weren't right, then I was shit. This year, I have just been more resilient and consistent because nothing is ever perfect when you are racing 70 or 80 days a year.”
Of his 79 race days this year, 21 of those came at the Vuelta a Espana. Making his Grand Tour debut, the Vuelta was a baptism of fire as Morton's teammates fell sick and abandoned due to a virus that swept through the peloton. Morton though showed resilience, taking on the race at times, and arrived in Madrid after three weeks of racing in 90th place overall. He was one of just three Dimension Data riders to finish the race.
The decision to build his race programme around the Vuelta was justified and now Morton is hoping to reap the benefits in the new year.
"I said it was going to take me a whole season to get used to it and it has for sure," he said.
"The level is even higher than what it was the last time I was racing here, it seems to get higher every year. At the start of the year I was pretty toasted but it seems I am slowly absorbing it. Hopefully over the off-season, with a bit of rest and then a bit of a chance to train, I can come back stronger next year."
Learning to win
Morton won the Tour of Utah in 2016. This year the Tour of California was his best result, finishing seventh overall. Eighth place at the Tour of Oman and 18th at the Tour of Guangxi suggests the level isn't beyond Morton after his time away from the WorldTour. It's no surprise the Australian is again hungry for success and planning to raise his arms in celebration in 2018.
"Maybe some more racing in Europe earlier in the year. I would like to do something similar but step up a level as far as results go," said Morton of his potential race programme to land the wins.
"It makes you hungry for it again. To start at this level, the idea of winning is so far out of your mind. You are focused on surviving. Now towards the end of the year, that is the goal next year. Try and win something."
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