Lachlan Morton's ride to the top step of the general classification podium at the 2016 Tour of Utah involved more than the 1,146km he and the rest of the peloton covered this week in the Beehive State.
Morton's journey started as a young prodigy for the Garmin-Sharp WorldTour team, where he showed amazing promise as a world-class cyclist, but burnout with the cycling lifestyle at such a young age forced a detour for the 24-year-old Australian.
Morton walked away from the WorldTour during the 2014 season and did some soul searching about what exactly he wanted out of life, and he wasn't quite sure if professional cycling was going to be a part of that picture. But after a ride through the Australian outback with his older brother Angus, the pair decided to return to racing with the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team, on the condition that they be signed as a unit.
Team manager Danny Van Haute agreed, and the bothers were soon in the US racing on the domestic circuit. In 2015, his first year with the team, he finished 10th overall at the Tour of Utah and seventh at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
Morton has obviously been on the rise again, but his win this week in Utah confirmed that he was back at the top of his game. Perhaps that's what explains his emotional stop in the finishing straight where he had huge hugs for his father, Van Haute and his brother.
"I've had a pretty tough few years since the last time I raced well here," he said at the post-stage press conference. "I've had a lot of changes in my life and to get back to this top step is very special, and there are a lot of people who were involved with that. So, yeah, there were a lot of things going through my head, but mainly just all the people who continued to support me when things weren't good.
"It's easy for people to come out and congratulate you or pat you on the back when do something good, but when you're down and out that's when you know who your friends are," he said. "I guess I was thinking about all those people in all those tough moments, and that's what was going through my head."
Morton thanked his parents, who took him back in when he returned from European racing; his wife, who quit school to come live with him in the US; and his brother, who he said quit his job to race with him for "pretty much nothing."
Morton also made special note of Van Haute's support and his Jelly Belly teammates.
"He's been amazing for me," Morton said. "He took a big chance taking my brother on, and then he gave me the time last year to find my feet again. This year we had some big goals, and he's put himself and the whole team behind me.
"And then this week, my team was incredible," he said. "I think if you talk to most people in the race, they didn't expect my team to be quite as strong as they were.
"Right there until the end of the [Wolf Creek Ranch] climb I still had two teammates there helping me out and putting me into the position I needed to be in. I think they're probably – I mean directly – the people who have helped me the most."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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