PAYSON — Lachlan Morton was 12 years old when he saw his first Tour de France.
That little boy couldn’t have know that less than 10 years later, some of the riders in that race would be his teammates doing whatever they could so he could cross the finish line first.
“It’s incredible,” the first-year pro said of riding with some of his idols, including Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie and Christian VandeVelde on the Garmin Sharp team. “To get support from these guys is pretty amazing. I’ve had the chance to learn a lot from them this year. To have them give you an opportunity like this, it fills you with confidence.”
The 21-year-old Garmin Sharp cyclist provided a thrilling show of guts and strategy that paid off with a victory in Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah Thursday as cyclists made their way from Richfield to Payson.
The Australian didn’t just win the day’s race, he also takes over the yellow leader’s jersey with an overall lead of 33 seconds — something he didn’t anticipate when he decided to try to win the stage with a solo attack.
“I wasn’t thinking about that,” he said of taking the overall lead halfway through the tour. “I was just trying to get the win. The yellow jersey is a nice bonus. This is an ideal scenario for us.”
Morton’s decision to strike out on his own as other riders were struggling up Mount Nebo’s category-one climb with 30 kilometers to the finish line looked like suicide. One cyclist, after all, is usually no match for the peloton.
Instead, it turned out to be brilliant, thanks to the treacherous 4,000-foot descent from Mount Nebo to Payson’s Main Street.
“He threw that long bomb,” said third-place finisher Lucas Euser, who rides for United Health Care Pro Cycling, “threw that Hail Mary, and it worked. I always love it when that happens. It’s an awesome win. It’s nice to see a young guy who deserves a win get one.”
The move was bold.
“I like riding up hills,” Morton said smiling. “And that was a big hill.”
Mount Nebo is actually the largest peak on the Wasatch Front at 11,928 feet, with the riders reaching about 9,300 feet. The Australian admitted afterward that even he underestimated just how far he’d have to ride alone. But once he had the lead, he was going to do everything he could to hold on to it.
“I sort of didn’t realize how far it was from the top of that last hill to the finish,” he said, detailing how he rode off alone, caught the two leaders and then abandoned them even before the summit. “It wasn’t quite the descent I thought it was going to be. There were a lot more rolling hills, and it wasn’t really straight to the finish.”
Euser, who now sits in third place overall, said the descent was extremely difficult, even with help from a local — teammate and Salt Lake native Jeff Louder.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I was one of the guys who went off the road about halfway down. When I went off the road, it was just because some other guys in front of me did. It was a super tricky descent, super fast. I think after a couple of guys almost crashed, there was even more hesitation.”
The final 20 kilometers was so treacherous, Morton actually gained time against the peloton, something unusual for a single rider trying to stay in front of the pack. The climb and descent were so difficult that it shattered the peloton, leaving about 20 riders battling for second place.
BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, who won stage one and finished second in stage two, earned second place on the day and overall with another impressive sprint. Van Avermaet will wear the best sprinter’s jersey for the second straight day.
“The sprint itself, it’s always a little bit easier with 20 guys rather than 200,” Eucer said, pointing out that he just stayed on Avermaet’s wheel as the finish line came into view. “That’s a good place to be.”
In addition to earning the yellow leader’s jersey, Morton also earned the best young rider’s jersey.
Eucer said what Morton did gave cycling fans a feast of all cycling has to offer.
Friday’s stage 4 is a circuit of less than 40 miles in downtown Salt Lake City. It will cater to people like Eucer and Van Avermaet, although Eucer said he’s looking forward to the climb up to Snowbird on Saturday and up Empire Pass on Sunday.
Michael Torckler kept the King of the Mountain jersey and said he hopes to keep it as the race turns into a climber’s this weekend.
“I feel a little bit more comfortable now,” he said smiling. “It’s a big confidence boost to hang onto it. I see myself as a climber, so I’ll look to these last couple of days to get those points.”
Lachlan said he enjoyed his moment but believes it will be one of his teammates who next battles for a stage win or the yellow jersey.
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