Jelly, jelly, who’s got the jelly bean?
We’re waiting any day now to hear where former WorldTour prodigy Lachlan Morton will end up next season as his contract with Jelly Belly comes to an end.
Once an up and coming star at Garmin and once tipped by his boss Jonathan Vaughters as a potential grand tour winner, Morton took a willful step back down to try and deal with the stress and loneliness of the pro cyclists lifestyle.
Then the young Australian climber rebuilt his career with a strong year at Jelly Belly, including overall wins in two mountainous stage races, the Tour of the Gila and Tour of Utah where he bested Andrew Talansky who would go on to finish fifth in the recent Vuelta a Espana.
Our assumption was that perhaps he might return to Garmin — now Cannondale-Drapac — where he had his earlier successes like his fifth overall in the 2013 US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. After all, Drapac is an Australian property funds management business. The squad is also based in Boulder where Morton lives.
Then again, we thought the best bet was a move to the U.S. based UnitedHealthcare Pro Continental squad. Morton’s Boulder coach, Australian former pro Ben Day is now High Performance Director at UnitedHealthcare. It would seem to be a natural fit and general manager Mike Tamayo has signaled that the team will focus more on stage races over their traditional mastery in sprints and criterium.
Racing on the U.S. domestic circuit, Tamayo and his team have had an up-close look at just how well Morton has been in racing. When I interviewed Tamayo about Morton during the Tour of California for a story in Cycle Sport magazine, he was complimentary about Morton’s riding.
“He’s a talented climber and he really stepped up his time trialing. One thing I do like about him was he was at Garmin, he did get left behind, he hit a low and now he’s climbed back out and riding well,” said Tamayo. I believe in gravitas, the unmeasurable and that shows perseverance. That actually becomes more interesting for me.”
While UnitedHealthcare rides some big races in Europe, they still haven’t scored that invite to a grand tour. However, that goal is still in their sights and the push to bring in more stage race talent is part of that strategy. Will that happen soon enough for Morton, who has stated his desire to ride the biggest races?
This year in California, Morton said “I’ve realized I’m pretty lucky to have the ability to be able to race a bike. It’s a privilege. I really want to go over there and do those big races. Even just watching the Giro, I have that desire and that requires you to go race the WorldTour.”
Lachlan Morton is climbing back to the top of the sport. Shortly, we’ll see where he lands next.