Free hugs, pickle juice and a broken derailleur: Lachlan Morton's monster Tour Divide effort

The Australian endurance-specialist broke the record for the 4296km, and had to contend with just three gears at the end

Lachlan Morton on the Tour Divide
(Image credit: Ryan Hill (Instagram: ryanhill))

Some riders would take it easy once they left the WorldTour peloton, but not Lachlan Morton, who completed his latest long-distance challenge at the weekend, cycling the Great Divide mountain bike route from Canada to the USA's border with Mexico.

Along the way, the Australian EF Education-EasyPost rider had to contend with a broken derailleur, very worn brake pads, saddle sores, and lots of inclement weather.

He completed the 4296km mountain bike route in 12 days, 12 hours and 21 minutes, unofficially breaking the long-held record of 13 days, 22 hours and 51 minutes set in 2016 by ultra-distance legend, the late Mike Hall. It's unofficial because Morton was accompanied by a film crew, which could affect the validity of the "unsupported" nature of the ride, and also the route has changed since Hall's attempt.

And yet, it is still a huge achievement, especially as Morton made a point of forcing himself to stop for sleep every night. He stopped for 30 per cent of his total time, which is about seven hours a day, which is a concerted effort of resting.

"I am really interested to see with this approach, how fast you can really go and if it would be competitive with people who have really pushed that sleep element,”  Morton said before setting out. It looks like he might have found the right balance.

The broken derailleur sounds like it might have stopped a mere mortal, but Morton appears to be able to beat problems like this. He ran his Cannondale Scalpel with SRAM XX1 Eagle, with a 38t front chainring and a 10-52t cassette at the rear, but it appears at about the 12th day of his attempt, the derailleur stopped working, or at least the shifters did.

“I kicked it as hard as I could and then it started working again,” said Morton in an update from the trail, though then it stopped again. With the kicking no longer working, he resorted to shifting via a spoke shoved into the derailleur.

He bodged gear changes by shoving a spare spoke through his derailleur cage and wedging it against the rear triangle of his bike frame, which allowed him access to three gears, although reasonably big ones at that. 

The shifting did return for the final part of the journey, fortunately, so it wasn't horrible forever, fortunately. To add to the peril of not being able to shift gears properly, it appears that he basically had no brake pads left by the end, if this Instagram is anything to go off

Lachlan Morton

(Image credit: Ryan Hill (Instagram: ryanhill))

Along the thousands of kilometres of riding, Morton had to dodge fires caused by lightning early on in Canada, lots of wet weather, and terrible coffee.

“I have never been so cold for so long on a bike ever,” said Morton from Whitefish, Montana at one point. “But I feel amazing on the bike.”

He was also pictured during the ride drinking pickle juice - standard - along with a Coors lager, Oreos, a hot dog, and a carton of milk. These are the nutritional secrets of a top endurance cyclist, I guess. Once you're cycling a certain distance, it really is all about the calories, and as an unsupported rider, I suppose, you take all the food you can get at a petrol station.

Another famous photo from the ride shows Morton raiding another shop, with a man holding a "FREE HUGS!!" sign outside; the Australian duly obliged the intimacy-giving man; it's all about the marginal gains.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.