Tour of Utah: Memorable descent delivers Morton yellow jersey
Payson • Still churning his legs on his two-wheeled steed, Lachlan Morton pedaled around the gymnasium inside Payson's Park View Elementary underneath lowered basketball hoops sporting a black cowboy hat.
He just couldn't get off his bike. Could you blame him?
The 21-year-old Australian had just completed the ride of his young professional career on a team wrought with some of cycling's biggest stars.
Dave Zabriskie. Christian Vande Velde. Tom Danielson. All Tour de France veterans, all of whom have taken the young Aussie under their collective wing on Team Garmin Sharp.
And like the rest of the world, his teammates saw Morton sizzle.
In Stage 3 of the 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Morton made his move on a mountain Â Mount Nebo, the tallest of any peaks along the Wasatch Mountain range and began his chase as he approached the top, a chase that eventually earned him a stage victory and an accompanying yellow jersey.
"I like riding up hills," Morton said with a pause, "and that was a big hill."
Instead, the youngster made it look small.
He caught renowned climber Francisco Mancebo and dropped him. Then he caught Benjamin King and Carter Jones.
Then came the descent. The 22-mile drop that would snake Morton 4,000 feet down monstrous Mount Nebo. The lead was his, and he wouldn't relinquish it.
Slicing around sharp curves at speeds faster than advised for vehicles, Morton kept the pace and kept his pedals moving. Unlike the first two stages, the leader with 20 miles remaining sustained a lead and even added to it.
Third-place finisher Lucas Euser of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling summed up the performance.
"He did the long bomb," Euser said, shaking his head. "He threw that Hail Mary, and it worked. I always love seeing that."
Morton shot out of the canyon below Nebo's shadow alone, knowing that the finish line was merely a few miles away. The speed he kept down the mountain seemed to keep up and the peloton only crept up to 40 seconds behind the final kilometer of the race.
"When you have an opportunity like that, especially as a young rider, you just got to take it, and I did," Morton said. "I just put my head down and focused on the finish line."
Eventually crossing that line all on his lonesome, Morton put one hand to the sky and pointed upward as the fans crowding the streets in Payson gave him a thunderous ovation. It was only minutes later that some of the sport's top riders followed, certainly cementing the kind of dominant and memorable afternoon the Garmin Sharp rider just had.
In 2010, Morton competed in the Tour of Utah as a junior rider on a development team and rode the same tiring climb up Nebo, but didn't realize he'd been on that stretch until he began the climb Thursday. In 2010, the stage took them to the top as that stage trekked from Thanksgiving Point to Nebo's apex.
On Thursday afternoon, Morton was able to reach the top and glide down the other side, along quick turns and difficult rolls, and did so untouched.
A self-described climber, Morton dominated the descent, earning him the yellow jersey and a 34-second lead over Greg Van Avermaet Thursday's second-place finisher and Stage 1 victor in the general classification.
"Things like this happen," Euser said, "and you have guys that deserve to get a win get a win."
The Hail Mary worked to perfection.
R Stage 3 • Richfield to Payson,119 miles
Yellow jersey (overall leader) • Lachlan Morton, Team Garmin Sharp
Purple jersey (sprinter's classification) • Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team
Blue jersey (king of the mountain) • Michael Torckler, BISSELL Pro Cycling
Light blue jersey (best young rider) • Lachlan Morton, Team Garmin Sharp
Gray jersey (most aggressive rider) • James Stemper, 5-Hour Energy
Top 10 finishers
1. Lachlan David Morton, Team Garmin Sharp
2. Greg Van Avermaet, BMC Racing Team
3. Lucas Euser, UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling
4. George Bennett, RadioShack Leopard Trek
5. Janier Acevedo Calle, Jamis-Hagens Berman
6. Gregory Obando Brenes, Champion System Pro Cycling
7. Chris Horner, RadioShack Leopard Trek
8. Philip Deignan, UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling
9. Tiago Machado, RadioShack Leopard Trek
10. Matthew Busche, RadioShack Leopard Trek
Stage 4 preview
Route • Salt Lake City circuit (33.8 miles)
Elevation gain • 3,550 feet
Start time • 5:30 p.m.