In the hours following the start of the Tour de France de Bretagne peloton on Saturday, professional cyclist Lachlan Morton will get on his bike and start pedaling on the same course, far behind his teammates whom he will not see again for three weeks.
Still, on Saturday night, Morton should be well ahead of them. And as they retreat to their French hotel for dinner and a massage after Stage 1, Morton will still be on the bike. In fact, between Saturday and July 18, he will spend more time in the saddle than on foot and cover hundreds of kilometers more than the eventual Tour winner.
Morton attempts a trip to ride the course of the world’s most famous bike race, supported only by what he can take with him. This means no team cars, no mechanics and hardly any hotels.
It is the most difficult single-handed breakaway of the Tour de France. (Follow his progress here.)
In parallel with the race, Morton plans to pedal alone the 3,383 kilometers (2,102 miles) of the official distance. Because it eschews the luxury of a team bus, it will also cover the distance between stages, making its route over 60% longer than the actual race.
His vision, somewhere at the intersection of romantic, nostalgia and madness, is to capture the spirit of the grueling first Tour de France of 1903.
“There is an element of uncertainty, the uncontrollable and the road creating the narrative that has been lost,” Brittany’s Morton said.
Morton, who competes at the elite level of the World Tour for the EF Education-Nippo team, is also an endurance riding specialist. And even he has no idea if his Alternate Tour can be completed – he’s talking about 5,510 kilometers in 23 days. The transfer between stages 20 and 21 alone covers more than 400 miles between the Bordeaux region and Paris. But that did not prevent him from setting a more ambitious goal than simply surviving a gigantic Tour de France: he also wants to beat the pro peloton all the way to Paris.
“I don’t think any of us know whether he can actually do it or not,” said Jonathan Vaughters, EF team manager and former Tour de France rider. “This makes 1903 more difficult than 1903.”
Morton has spent the past two years broadening the definition of what it means to be a cyclist. Although it followed the traditional path of development teams up to the elite level of the World Tour, something about the regular racing schedule has lost its luster – the bus to the start of the stage every morning, the cramped hotels, five hours of hard pedaling in the peloton, rinse and repeat.
“Of all the cycling you can do, it’s the closest to an office job,” Morton says.
So, with the support of the EF team, he started looking for other places – and other reasons – to ride a bike. He tackled the 150 mile single track Kokopelli Trail from Colorado to Utah. He traveled the length of Britain with only the gear he could put on the bike. He climbed and descended a single steep Colorado road 42 times in less than eight hours to rack up enough vertical gain to match Mount Everest. (Then he did it again seven days later.)
None of these mad efforts, however, lasted more than a week. The Tour de France is spread over three. The accumulated fatigue of racing through mountain ranges and under the scorching summer sun is so distressing that the traditional Tour riders, who stay in hotels and get a massage every day, ride around Paris like men. broken. Humans are just not supposed to ride that long. Morton knows strange things happen when they do.
“Sometimes you’re really happy and you’re like, ‘This is the best thing ever. I wish I could keep riding. ‘ He said. “And then half an hour later you feel like crying, wondering why you are doing all this.” “
After 11 or 12 hours, he notices that his morale tends to drop. His body screaming at him to stop, his mind joining the chorus. Morton has enough experience to know that if he can get through this moment, he can find a few more hours in his legs. The real signal to call it a day is when the hallucinations begin. Large rocks turn into fluffy dogs. Morton’s brain turns to mush.
“I’ve never been in a position where it was dangerous,” he says of his past bordering on insanity. “But looking back, you’re like ‘Wow, I was on another planet.'”
Morton has to travel over 300 miles a day for the first week, which keeps him on the road for about 13 or 14 hours. He also aims to stay in his bed – a thin roll-up mattress and sleeping bag – for at least eight. He can’t afford to deprive himself of sleep like he has in the past, like the time he crossed the Badlands Road in Spain staying awake for 42 straight hours.
“When you ride, you don’t just mark miles,” he says. “You keep asking yourself: where am I going to get food next? Where can I get water? Where am I going to sleep? “
The answers, in order, will be mainly: gas stations, village fountains and the ground.
Throughout the early years of the Tour, when riders smoked cigarettes on the bike and drank brandy to cheer themselves up, organizers insisted that competitors support each other along the route. The race was designed to be the triumph of one man and his machine.
They were so strict that French champion Eugène Christophe was disqualified while repairing the front fork of his bike in a forge while leading the 1913 Tour. Although he did his own weld, Christophe still was excluded from the race once it was discovered he had received illegal assistance – the blacksmith’s son had operated the bellows.
The Modern Tour allows a little more help. Each team of eight arrives with twice the staff to handle everything from race strategy and data to transporting branded mattresses from hotel to hotel. For the 21 workhorses who crossed the finish line of this first Tour, this level of luxury would have been unimaginable.
“There’s a part of me that thinks I would have been a lot better suited to this era of racing, frankly,” said Morton. “It wasn’t necessarily a job for them. It was just a challenge and a chance to do something epic.
Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected]
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