It is around dawn somewhere in rural northern England and the rain is falling. A thick slather of mud coats the ground the Australian walks on. His bike isn’t much use to him in these conditions, not on this trail. He’s exhausted. His limbs, heart and mind tired from the effort of riding, almost non-stop, for the past two days.
He’s cold and wet. It’s been like this for the last seven, maybe eight, hours — it turns out that rock bottom can stretch on for a long time. There’s no phone reception, no help, he’s very much alone.
And the worst bit is that there’s no one else to blame, he did this to himself.
It starts as a cry of frustration but soon the tears flow freely and they flow for 10 full minutes, barely perceptible on his rain-soaked face.
But he trudges on, just like he has done already countless times in the past two days, because this is still a race and, frankly, how else is he going to get to the end of it?
“It was the worst moment,” says Lachlan Morton, EF Education First rider, of that point on his GBDuro experience. “But it was also the best because when I pulled myself out of it I realised, oh, I can just get past that. If I just really put my mind to it, I can get past that intense low. All of a sudden, I felt euphoric. But definitely, in that moment I fully cracked.”
Morton wasn’t really sure what he was letting himself in for when he signed up for the inaugural GBDuro, a mixed road and off-road race from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. The race consists of four stages, averaging around 500km in length and while riders can stop as long as they like at the checkpoints between each stage, they still need to average 200km a day to make the finishers’ party and get an official time. Safe to say it ended up being quite an experience.
Not unreasonably Morton thought he might be well suited to this type of task; he rides big mileages in training and frequently ventures off-road onto the gravel paths that criss-cross Colorado, where he lives. But he readily admits he didn’t really know what he was letting himself in for when he volunteered to enter the GBDuro race as part of the team’s alternative calendar.
“The whole idea of those type of races was mind-boggling to me,” he says. “But I’ve always been worried about the sleep deprivation side of it and what that would that do to your health.”
The GBDuro’s stage format lulled him into a false sense of security. “I was thinking there’ll be some gravel road, like 60 per cent gravel, but that’ll be fine, we’ll average 25kph and we will be able to knock the stages out very easy in a day. And then just have a day off in between.
“Then I slowly started doing more and more research. Even though I was probably very under-researched by the start, the research I did started to make me realise that it was going to take quite a long time. But at that point I’d been signed up.”
Read the rest of this article in the August 15 issue of Cycling Weekly, on sale now in newsagents and supermarkets priced £3.25. You can also get Cycling Weekly on your Android or Apple device.