Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) has raced the Amgen Tour of California three times previous to this year, with his best result to date coming last year on stage 3 to Gibraltar Road, where the talented climber animated the early going on the out-of-category ascent and eventually finished seventh.
Morton crashed hard and eventually abandoned during stage 5, but he went on to take the overall win at the 2.HC Tour of Utah in August and moved from Jelly Belly-Maxxis back to the WorldTour in the offseason. Now he's looking to build on the Utah result with his new team, and California could be the launching pad.
"It's gonna be a fun week," he told Cyclingnews after finishing safely in the bunch during stage 1. "We've got a strong team here and I like racing in America. I've done this race a lot of times, so I'm looking forward to trying to do something here."
Morton's first shot at the race came in 2013 when he was a neo pro with Garmin, and his inexperience showed. He finished 55th overall, with his best stage result coming on the climb to Mt. Diablo, where he finished 47th.
Morton returned to California in 2015 with Jelly Belly and finished a disappointing 88th. But the 2016 season saw the former prodigy return to the form that earned him a contract with Garmin at 20-years-old.
He parlayed that form into the Utah win and a return to the sport's top echelon. The question now is if he can repeat the performance on the WorldTour stage this week in California.
"In Utah the course suited me really well, and everything came together there," he said. "This is going to be a tough week, but I'm going to fight and try and do something. Every opportunity you get to have support from a team like we have here, you got to grab it with both hands, and that's what I'm going to do."
Morton's best result so far this season is eighth overall at the Tour of Oman, where he finished seventh on the Green Mountain stage won by BMC's Ben Hermans ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana) and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates). He had to abandon Pais Vasco on stage 5 in his most recent race, but he's hoping his experience with California and cursory knowledge of the Baldy stage will be his saving grace this week.
"It's one of those climbs where you either have it or you don't," said Morton, who finished more than 20 minutes down on stage winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) when the race went up the mountain in 2015.
"It's not too much tactics involved in it. The hardest part of the whole thing is just getting to the bottom of Baldy and not having lost time in the days before, as fresh as you can be," he said.
"If I get there with good legs, I'm pretty sure I can do something, but if you get there tired and beat up, there's only so much you can do. So I'm just trying to get to that point of the race and then see what I can do."