Australian pro rider pursues his own Tour de France

TARASCON-SUR-ARIÈGE, FRANCE (AFP) – Lachlan Morton has made a career out of racing bikes, but he’s not aiming for the podium in this summer’s Tour de France – instead he focusses on getting enough to eat and keeping dry.

“I’ve made a few mistakes with running out of food, getting everything wet, sleeping in a wet sleeping bag,” the 29-year-old Australian told AFP at a cafe in southern France, a carton of milk in hand.

Lugging his gear on a carbon-fibre Cannondale, Morton is pursuing what his EF Education-Nippo team calls the Alt Tour, a solo no-support journey along the official route.

But unlike the Tour riders – he began an hour after the official start on June 26 – he is also biking the distance between the various stages while the main tour are transported from one stage to the next.

To keep cool during his 12-hour days, he swapped his clipless pedals in favour of open-toe sandals.

By the time he rolls into Paris, Morton will have travelled 5,500 kilometres, compared with 3,414 kilometres for this year’s official Tour.

Australian cyclist Lachlan Morton (L) rides for a short moment with fellow Australian cyclist Chris Hamilton, on the 13th day of his solo alternative Tour de France cycling race near Soldeu in the principality of Andorra on July 8. PHOTO: AFP

“This is by far my favourite style of riding a bike,” he said. “It’s very peaceful, you get to know yourself very well and the landscape and the place you are in.”

Morton’s tour is a charity ride for World Bicycle Relief, which provides rugged, low-maintenance bikes to poor rural areas, for children to get to school for example or farmers to transport more to market.

“It was actually my boss’s idea,” he said. “He asked me if I thought it was possible and I said ‘sure, I’ll give it a go’.”

It’s also a chance to complete the Tour in a spirit closer to its roots, when riders were supposed to be self-sufficient and no assistance was allowed.

While his teammates get massages, hot meals and a hotel bed at the end of their days, Morton finds a campground and blows up an inflatable mattress that barely fits into his bivy sack.

He also has to think about charging a light or a phone stocked with music – Lou Reed and King Krule are on the playlist – so that people can follow his progress on the Alt Tour website.

“Looking after myself, the camping, the cooking, that’s tough, but it’s what’s makes it so unique,” he said.

“Every day there’s something that comes out… it might be mechanical, sometimes it might be a mental or a physical thing,” he added.

“They are individual challenges that you just have to take as they come.”

Morton has also met plenty of well-wishers, including local riders who come out to join him as he travels through their towns or tackles a tough ascent.

Having gotten into a rhythm over the past three weeks, he says it has also got easier to get up and get going when the alarm goes off at 5am.

And it’s a nice break from the adrenalin rush of racing.

“To be able to be outside, in France, during the Tour de France, riding your bike all day with no other objective than getting as far as you can and then camping – It’s such a nice, simple way to be living,” he said.

“It’s really like a dream come true in all the ways. A weird dream to have, I guess.”

But it hasn’t stopped him looking forward to the small luxuries that await at the end of his ride, like sleeping in a real bed and wearing clean clothes – “in that order.”