Standing under bunting featuring yellow, green and polka dot jerseys, and with a large sign a few metres ahead of me celebrating the arrival of the Tour de France in Saint-Gaudens in just four days, I am getting impatient. Not for the Tour’s arrival, but for Lachlan Morton. I’ve been trying to catch him the previous three days, but he is so fast, so intent on making it to Paris ahead of the actual Tour, I keep missing him.
Looking at my watch, I tell myself yet again that yes this definitely is the roundabout I’d been told he’d pass. He then appeared, his wheels screaming around a roundabout, tightening his sandals (more on this to come) and then bombing down a hill.
I hurry after him, coming to an abrupt stop within seconds when he hits the brakes, correcting a wrong turn. The smell of hastily hand washed Lycra and a man as far removed from the luxury of modern-day life wafts back to hit me. In one of his jersey pockets is stuffed a used paper bag from his recent trip to the bakery.
The Tour is in town: not the race itself, but an alternative version of it - wackier, longer and arguably harder.
It is day 14 of Morton’s unorthodox tour around France, coined the Alt Tour. The EF Education – Nippo rider wants to emulate the essence of the first ever Tour, in 1903, that required competitors to ride hundreds of kilometres each day and from dusk to dawn.
He is covering each of the race’s stages and all the transfers in between. When I finally catch Morton, he is approaching the 4,000km mark. He would eventually reach Paris after 5,509km in 17 days, a whopping 225 hours of riding time. In the process he hopes to raise money for World Bicycle Relief (see box).
Impressing on his love of endurance challenges, the 29-year-old succinctly explains as we ride just to the north of the Pyrenees why he is undertaking an intrepid task. “Because I think I was made for this,” he smiled
As the morning chill begins to warm, we pass a village market, and I notice Morton craning his neck around to check it out. “Do you go to these markets much,” I enquire. “Absolutely”, he says. “I had the best pastry just before.” I say that a man only needs bread and cheese when cycling in France. He concurs, before adding, “Not cheese at this time though. Not some of that really strong stuff at 9am.”
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