Lachlan Morton sets sights on the Great Divide record

The EF Education-EasyPost off-road and endurance racer is doing the route with a film crew and for charity

ClockUpdated 18:57, Monday 28th August 2023. Published 17:43, Monday 28th August 2023
Morton photographed during last year's Colorado Trail attempt

© Sean Greene/EF Pro Cycling

Morton photographed during last year's Colorado Trail attempt

Lachlan Morton is back to his ultra exploits and this time he is taking on the granddaddy of all ultra tests: the Great Divide. Morton will be starting the effort from the traditional start point in Banff, Canada, on August 29.

The Great Divide, which begins in Banff and terminates in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, is the closest thing that bike-packing has to a Tour de France-level route. At 2,671 miles long, cutting through some of the highest altitude and most remote swaths of the United States and Canada, think of it as 14 very long — very unsupported — stages, racing a clock that doesn’t stop. It is very much cycling’s alternative Grand Tour.

“It’s not about whether a record will get broken,” Morton said in an EF Education-EasyPost press release. “It’s about seeing how fast I can do it in a way that is mentally and physically sustainable.”

The Divide done differently

Morton is doing the Divide a little differently compared to most attempts of the famous route. Rather than running on as little sleep as possible, as most long individual time trials and ultra-race efforts are executed, Lachlan plans to self-impose 12 hours of rest every 48 hours. But, in traditional ultra-racing format, the clock will never stop. Following the self-supported ethos, Lachlan will not accept outside support and will resupply only from publicly available stores on route.

“It is going to be around two weeks, maybe more,” Morton said. “The Alt Tour was a similar duration but I think a challenge of this kind of outweighs that because of the fact that you’re alone, and some stretches are so remote and wild that you are really kind of on your own out there.”

The course record, or fastest known time (FKT), is held by the late ultra-cycling legend Mike Hall, who completed the ride in 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes in 2016.

“I’ve done a few ultras now and they have all involved a fair bit of sleep deprivation in trying to go fast,” Morton said. “The last one I did was the Colorado Trail around this time last year. And I enjoyed that experience, but in the last kind of push I was pretty sleep-deprived and wasn’t enjoying it and had that realisation that ‘I don’t want to do this again.’

“I want to do this on a pretty good amount of sleep every night for a few reasons. The main one: I want to enjoy the riding, and it becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy what you are doing when you are running on minimal sleep, for me anyways, because you are not as present and aware. I don’t want to enter that space.”

Even with the self-imposed rest, Morton will do his best to try and take the record to go with his budding list of ultra-endurance accomplishments, like the GB Duro and the Colorado Trail.

“But I still enjoy pushing big distances and mileage, so I am going to be — while I am riding — trying to cover as much distance as I can and trying to do it in a time that is as fast as I can while still sleeping.”

Morton is fresh off of a different type of test this August where he took on each of Colorado’s biggest off-road races, back to back to back. First, he rode to a ninth-place finish at Leadville. The very next day, Morton started the Breck Epic – a six-day mountain bike race around the high-altitude resort town of Breckenridge – which he won. Then, with only a day of rest before his next test, he finished an impressive fifth at a blistering fast edition of SBT GRVL.

His only note? Too much rest between the Breck Epic and SBT, as he told Velo while sitting in a creek in Steamboat Springs. Too much rest will not be a concern on the Divide.

The sticky topic of coverage

One way in which the attempt might bring the ire of bikepacking and FKT purists is the ‘support’ Morton will receive through the presence of a film crew periodically throughout the course. For many in the ultra world, this is a disqualifying aspect of many of the more publicised FKT attempts of recent years, including a particularly volatile dispute over Lael Wilcock’s Tour Divide attempt. The team supporting Morton will document his effort, documenting his ups and downs each day, which puts whatever time Lachlan achieves over those lonely western miles into a conversation around what counts as an ‘official’ time in some books.

“I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, I have done long rides with a camera crew and without a camera crew, and I know how it impacts me personally,” Morton said about his camera crew. “So I don’t really feel like there is an advantage in having the crew around, but to me, it comes down to this idea of validating an official record. What counts and what doesn’t? And ultimately I don’t really care.

“In terms of whether the Colorado Trail record belongs to me, I still know how I approached it, the way I have done it and had the experience that I have had and that is what I am after. It’s not about whether a record will get broken. It’s about seeing how fast I can do it in a way that is mentally and physically sustainable, and people can decide.”

The details of the ride

The route, which features in the Tour Divide race each year, stitches around and over the Continental Divide from north to south of North America. The race takes place in June and is typically marked by foul weather in the high mountains of Canada and the American Mountain West. Thus, most record attempts are done later in the summer when the weather is more predictable.

The route itself starts in Banff, Alberta, Canada and ends in Antelope Wells, New Mexico on the border of the United States and Mexico. Even if August and September might be more tame than June, the challenges are still numerous brown bears in the north, heat and wind in the south and massive thunderstorms on the flanks of big mountains throughout.

“The Great Divide Mountain Bike route is probably the most well-known off-road bikepacking route in the world, so once I started getting into bikepacking, it was straight on the bucket list of routes that I wanted to do,” Morton said. “I have been trying to do it for the last few years and it has just never worked out, but there is a little window in the calendar this year that I can go and ride it.

“It is obviously super long with lots of remote areas or stretches; it is going to be just a huge challenge, but I think it will be a pretty enjoyable one. There is a lot of the northern States that I haven’t seen, so I think it will be pretty special to explore all of that by bike.”

Speaking of bikes, Morton will use his Cannondale Scalpel HT and his team will share his full gear choices before he sets off. If Leadville is anything to go off of, the set-up could get creative.

Raising awareness and funds with his attempt

Morton’s ride, like most of his big endurance endeavours, will raise funds for a non-profit or charity. This time, Morton will be donating to the Adventure For All foundation.

As the organisation puts it: “Adventure For All is a national non-profit organisation that empowers individuals with exceptionalities (Down Syndrome, autism, and other intellectual and developmental exceptionalities) through outdoor adventures to help them defy current societal perceptions so they can embark on their own journeys of endless potential. It’s through these challenges that they grow and lead a movement to redefine inclusion.”

Specifically, the money donated during this attempt will help the organisation help disadvantaged people take on their own off-road cycling challenges.

“With every $10,000 we raise we will be able to help an individual with exceptionalities learn how to ride a bike independently, advance their skills, and personally train them for eight months in preparation for their first ever off-road bike race somewhere around the continental U.S,” Chase Pettey, the founder of Adventure for All, said in the press release. “So this ride not only helps Lachlan overcome new challenges and reach new heights of growth, but it will do the very same for a group of adventure athletes with exceptionalities."

Along with Morton’s journey, dot-watchers and fans can donate to Adventure For All to help meet those goals. To date, Morton’s fundraising efforts on the Colorado Trail, riding to the Ukraine border, and the Alt Tour have raised more than 1 million USD in donations. Recipients have included: World Bike Relief (the Alt Tour, $713,000); the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund ($300,986) and the family of Kenyan professional cyclist Sule Kangangi, a friend of Lachlan's who died while riding in a race in the summer of 2022.

To follow Lachlan Morton's GPS dot, click here. If you would like to donate to Adventure for All, click here.

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