Vuelta a Espana breakaway a day of suffering for Morton

Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data)

Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

While illness has swept through Dimension Data, claiming Ben King, Nick Dougall and Youcef Reguigui, Lachlan Morton fought hard to spend a day out in of the peloton on stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana.

The Australian, making his Grand Tour debut, explained that despite having legs that "didn't want to wake up" as the breakaway tried to establish itself, he persisted with the move and was ultimately rewarded for his efforts.

"With more and more guys jumping up the road and the need to get across, there was a massive 5km chase with two Katusha dudes. Full, full effort and you know in the back of your head that it's a 200km stage with five climbs ahead," Morton wrote in his diary for Rapha. "But you also know, if you don't get across before the climb, it's game over. We made contact a little way up the road and 10 more came from behind. The break was 30 guys and a lot of big engines, but my legs felt fried."

The rolling 202.4km stage 6 from Vila-real to Sagunt featured five categorised climbs with the longest, Alto de Alcudia de Veo, first on the menu. With little chance for rest across the day and Team Sky chasing hard for race leader Chris Froome, Morton explained that while he was feeling the efforts his thoughts were also with teammate Dougall.

"Sky were chasing full gas. I thought for a second about Nick Dougall, my teammate who came down with the same sickness that has already claimed two from our team. This was the opposite of what he needed," he said. "We dangled 1m 30s ahead of the bunch. All that suffering to get in the move and it’s going nowhere. My legs were not getting any better and as we hit the second-to-last climb they emptied. About 10 guys continued on, trying to hold off the robots in black leading the bunch. Good luck, heroes."

With a touch over 140km covered on the Puerto del Oronet, Morton explained that "my day turned from race to survival".

"The bunch picked me up with George Bennett about a kilometre from the top of the penultimate climb. I was immediately put at ease when I saw the degree of suffering in the group. Everyone bar the GC guys were swinging."

With Morton in survival mode, the 25-year-old explained that once the break was caught the focus was on getting into a rhythm knowing what awaited at the finish line.

"I found a good group on the last climb; some 15 guys all with the same goal to get to the finish. As we swapped silent turns for the last flat 30km we were no longer in a race. We were just getting to the finish, where there is a cold Fanta and the end of the suffering. We just have to use our bikes to get there," said Morton, who crossed the line in 139th place over 15 minutes down on stage winner Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal).

"I found out at the finish that we lost Nick on the road and Omar suffered a bad day with similar symptoms to the others. It's salt in the wound when I hear that three of those heroes managed to stay away and contest the win. I know I didn't have the legs, but it still hurts. It's hot, I'm tired and tomorrow we all start from zero again. Onwards."

Dimension Data's Bingen Fernandez explained Morton's ride will boost the morale of his squad which has been hit by illness. With Morton showcasing his aggressive racing style and Merhawi Kudus in form after his second place on stage 5, the DS is hoping for a change in fortune as the race moves into its second week.

"Today was a real race. It was good that Lachlan was in the break, he got dropped but today you could say he was just one of many who didn't survive, it was that hard," Fernandez said. "We are now also down to 6 riders, we lost Nic to this virus that has been going through the team. I hope it stops here and this is the last member of our team we lose."

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