Lachlan Morton collapsed into a sitting position immediately after crossing the finish line and winning the 2016 Tour of Utah.
Morton, who had finished 10th overall in last year’s Tour, entered Sunday’s concluding stage in second place and trailing the overall leader by 22 seconds.
Once the 24-year-old Australian gathered himself, he found his dad — who had watched the race from beginning to end — and squeezed him with every little bit he had left.
“I was thinking about all those people and those tough moments,” Morton said. “… Mainly all the people who have continued to support me when things weren’t good. It’s easy for people to come out and pat you on the back when you do something good, but when you’re down and out, you realize who your friends are.”
On the final stage of a seven-day competition, Morton proved that only the strongest legs and most experienced riders were going to be in the running for the overall title after a long week of seeing differing stage winners don the yellow jersey. Breaking out on Empire Pass — the last major climb before the Park City finish line — Morton looked determined and comfortable in pedaling at his own winning pace.
After a week when his team did much of the strategic legwork that is necessary to set up a potential win like Morton’s, it really wasn’t surprising that its strongest rider ended up with the yellow jersey when it was all said and done.
“This week, my team was incredible,” Morton said. “You speak to [a lot of] people in the race, they didn’t expect our team to quite as strong as they were. Right down to the climb today, I still had two teammates helping me out …”
Three years ago, on the very Stage 3 that he retook in 2016, a 21-year-old Morton stormed up the flanks of Mount Nebo, then seemingly disappeared from the pack. Showcasing an elite climbing ability, Morton was in a groove that was hard to match. Soon after that memorable climb, Morton was celebrating, pulling on the yellow jersey.
At that moment, Morton added himself to a list of elite up and coming riders who appear to be on their way to a long and bright career on the European circuit. There was little doubt he had the physique, and the talent to be elite.
But like anything else, it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. As soon as the 2014 season came to a close, Morton unexpectedly stepped away from the sport for reasons that had more to do with mental burnout than anything else.
“I’ve had a pretty tough few years since the last time I raced well here,” Morton said. “A lot of changes in my life. … To get back to this top step, it’s very special and there’s a lot of people involved with that.”
Now, just two years later, Morton is climbing his way back into the sport that he first fell in love with, but that he had to step away from in order to miss it. And at the very race where he first tasted what it was like to out-climb elite cyclists from all over the world, Morton is back to where it all started. As a champion.
Morton isn’t sure what’s next for him — he’s still listed as a U.S. domestic cyclist — but he’s not going to dwell on it.
Like the climb up Mount Nebo and stages he conquered this past week, Morton has learned to enjoy the moment and take one thing at a time.
“I’ve learned now not to look too far ahead,” Morton said. “It’s just important to take stock in what I’ve managed to do this season and even today, and to celebrate that and enjoy that because it’s easy to look next week, next season for the rest of your career and all of sudden it’s over and no one cares anymore. I’m just going to enjoy and take everything as it comes.”
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