The afternoon before the Santos Tour Down Under Team Presentation, Manual for Speed sat down with Lachlan Morton over coffee in Adelaide’s Central Market. We wanted to learn about two things: first, his offseason ride to the middle of nowhere, and second, the race ahead. What follows is in Lachlan’s words.
Just last year around this time, I was beginning the season again and all of a sudden people are asking about what I did in the offseason—and as in the past, it wasn’t much. “Oh well, I got drunk a couple of times and relaxed, but nothing worthwhile.” So I knew I wanted to do something the next offseason that I could look back on and say, “That was cool.” Originally I planned to ride around in Thailand, but my brother decided he wanted to come along and we got to thinking. He’s a couple of years older than me and had raced previously, so I was always following in his footsteps, but he stopped riding when he was 21 or so; it’d been about 3 years since he had ridden seriously. Our next thought was to do it in Argentina, through Patagonia, but we didn’t want to get in over our heads on our first trip—maybe next year. I’ve never toured before, and we didn’t want to get caught out in the middle of Argentina. So we threw this trip together: my uncle has a camper trailer that we borrowed, a friend from our hometown volunteered to drive, and a fourth guy from Sydney came along to film it all.“We really just threw it together in a couple of weeks and then left.”Lachlan Morton
During the trip everything was in the car, we didn’t have to carry anything on the bikes. We had a two-door Mitsubishi Pajero, a little four wheel drive. Lots of spare petrol, and we had it set up where all three of us could easily sleep and cook. That made the whole trip a lot nicer, honestly the whole thing was wicked until we killed an eagle.
We rode from Port Macquarie, where I’m originally from, out to Uluru11Also sometimes know as Ayers Rock.—a big rock out in the middle of Australia. It’s three and a half thousand ks or so, of which we probably rode about two thousand; the rest we drove. It was a nice mixture of riding, camping, checking out local pubs, driving. We were hanging out and riding for three weeks. By the fifth day we were really far out there: three hundred ks between any two places, which more often than not are just a service station and a pub. The pubs will have a bar downstairs and four or five rooms with a shared bathroom upstairs. You’ll come to some of these pubs and meet people who end up out there on a contract or something, and they live in one of the rooms—which seems odd at first. But people just end up out there, maybe on a mining contract, three weeks on three weeks off. They’re out there to live a shitty life for a couple of years, making a bunch of money to live well afterwards. Because the miners get paid so well however, the accommodations in tiny tows get inflated. You can go to a caravan park in the middle of nowhere looking for a cabin, and they’ll want $150 a night.“These are the kind of places where every evening the same four guys are in the pub drinking. In that sense you're an outsider, but nobody rides out there, so as soon as they hear what we were doing they become interested. They probably think we're a bit stupid most of the time. It's more traveling than a lot of them have done in their lives.”Lachlan Morton
Once you’re out in the middle of Australia you have to pick between two routes. One is the main highway, from Adelaide straight up to Darwin. But there are heaps of road trains on that road, big trailer trucks with three or four trailers. We were a little bit worried about that, so we took what’s called the Oodnadatta Track, a 600km dirt road which was originally built to service the railroad that runs along it. You come down pretty close to Adelaide before heading up, and about 250km outside of Adelaide you have to decide which way you’re going to go. We decided on a whim to go for the track. That was hard going, it was really corrugated and roughed up.
We did run into some of those road trains eventually. They’re tricky, because as they come up to you they don’t look like more than one trailer until they practically stop you dead from the wind. But they were fine, for the most part they slowed down—I’m sure they were surprised to see two guys out there riding. They’re so big, a little bit of movement is worth six feet on the back end, so they gave us tons of room. They don’t go very fast, so it’s tempting to try to jump in behind one of them going the same direction, but they aren’t quite slow enough to keep up.
Eventually we got to Uluru. Everyone else flew home while I drove the rig back with my girlfriend who had flown in. At one point, out in the middle of nowhere driving along a huge, straight highway, a big eagle—I’ve never seen a bird this big (at this point Lachlan makes a measuring motion with a level hand at about belly button height)—came up from the side of the road. It was trying to take off from the road surface, but it was so big it took ages to get flight—and since we had the big trailer I couldn’t slam on the brakes.“As we approached the eagle it was going up and up and it missed the windscreen—I thought for about half a second, 'Sweet!'—and then it went BANG. It was so big it pulled the roof rack straight off the car.”Lachlan Morton
The bikes were just bouncing along behind us. The eagle was dead. I wanted to get it taxidermied or something, but there was no place to put it, and we weren’t too keen on the idea of carrying a dead eagle with us for another four days. I’m sure if we had been somewhere half civilized we would’ve needed to report it, but there’s so much road out there and so few people that there’s no point. The only people out there, the farmers, wouldn’t notice. A farmer we met told us about a huge drought during which he had to shoot 36 kangaroos—they come in and eat crops during droughts. When the farmer came back the next morning, there were two carcasses left. For perspective, the only big predators out there are eagles. And hey, he flew into me.
We are in Central Market in Adelaide. It’s all underground, though I’m not sure what’s above us. A car park maybe? I’ve only been to Adelaide twice. We have to come here a week before the race for some reason—I understand for the European guys and the time change, but I’d rather just hang out at home in Sydney. You get sick of the hotels, but they want you to be together as a team, eat together, ride together. It gets pretty grim going to the same hotels and the same buffets for three weeks at a time.
This race is really different depending on the rider. There are a lot of Australian guys who really want to win, and it’s a World Tour race so the points are all real. You do have guys that are tuning up for the season ahead, but now that it’s a World Tour race, teams need to send guys that are riding well at the moment. Personally, my big goals this year are Tour de Suisse and Colorado once again.
We want Rohan to win. He’s a local Adelaide guy, and he’s going really well at the moment. He’s full-on but we get along really well. He’s really funny but the first time you meet him, you’re like, “Whoa, who is this guy?”
It could be a really great race. It’s not a climbers race, there aren’t any long stages and it isn’t super selective, but there are a couple of days that are hard enough where maybe ten or twenty guys will be left at the finish. And then the stage to Willunga is a hilltop finish—we don’t have many mountains in Australia. Lots of up and down, but no extended climbing. In that way it’s well set up for sprinters who can climb, or power climbers. Because of the terrain, it’s the sort of race where ten seconds can put you out. If you miss the lead group and lose ten seconds, you’re not going to make that up. Usually by the time we get to Willunga, for example, there are maybe ten guys in contention, but only two to three second gaps behind.
I’ve been coming down to the City Market in my downtime, getting massages in the afternoon, I rode my skateboard, but there isn’t much to do in the week before the race. It’s been so hot, too: 42°, 45°, 45°, 42°. Today’s been the first nice day since I got here.“Because of the heat you have to go for your ride really early, which means you're back at the hotel around eleven. It's like, 'Now what?'”Lachlan Morton
You could go to the beach, but that’s a lot of effort with the train. Plus, you have enough little things—a massage at three or a meeting at six—that you can’t do anything for longer than a few hours. It’s a nothing week, really. For example today I have a massage at some point this afternoon so I can’t go do anything during the day, and then team presentation is at five. You could sneak off to a pub for a bit, but of course you can’t drink.
At approximately 2:30 PM on Monday January 19th, the day between the first fake stage and the first real stage of the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under, Manual for Speed picked up Lachlan Morton from the Hilton Adelaide for a swimming-type field trip and to bang rays.