In the last 20 years, a handful of images have shaped my imagination and changed the way I looked at cycling: I can recall Pantani’s attack on the Galibier in 1998, Ivan Basso’s eyes climbing the Zoncolan in 2010, and Chris Froome demolishing Alberto Contador at the Tour de France 2013. Thereabouts 3: Discovering Colombia, the newest documentary by Angus and Lachlan Morton, is thought-provoking in another way.
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Released in January, the 'ingredients' are essential but powerful. Take two pro cyclists, strip them of their Lycra, rip their structured trainings apart, make them eat what they find on the road and let them interact with the locals.
The result is a mind-blowing experience – both for the riders and for the audience – that reconnects a professional bike rider with the simplest and purest soul of cycling. It explores the idea of riding, for only the sake of riding, in amazing places.
The skinny figures of the Morton brothers tortured by the most gruelling roads in Colombia or sunburned by the Australian deserts are a powerful source of inspiration.
Wearing simple cotton t-shirts and jean shirts (sometimes with a little bottle of whisky in the pocket, a way to feel more at ease in the wilderness), they bring together two cycling universes that are often distant: the racing one – all serious gear and tech – with the relaxed one.
“You go to school every day, and you go to work every day, and you wear uniforms,” explains Angus. “It’s kind of the same when you’re a bike rider: you wear uniforms every day, you represent your brand and you are going to work. [Thereabouts] is like the weekend; you have the opportunity to wear something a little bit different and be more free. It’s more exciting and opens up the idea of more possibilities."
“The idea of the trip was to express ourselves through riding,” adds Lachlan. “If we’d wear the team kit or the standard bike kit, that wouldn't really be an expression of us.”
Lachlan (25) is currently riding for the World Tour team Dimension Data, while his brother Angus (27) is representing the Continental’s Jelly Belly-Maxxis.
In Thereabouts, they challenge themselves on the hardest roads and conditions during their off season, but at the same time, they embark on a journey to discover a country and its culture. They didn't only create a quirky documentary that can attract non-cycling enthusiasts: they created a whole new genre of “cycling narrative”.
The very first Thereabouts was filmed in 2013. The Mortons started their ride in their home town of Port Macquarie, New South Wales, and headed to one of Australia’s most iconic places, the sandstone monolith of Uluru.
The monster ride became a 12-day trip for a total 2,000km (1240 miles) in the saddle. Lachlan was in his second year as a pro with the team Garmin-Sharp, while Angus – after having declined two potential pro contracts when he was 20 – was working as a TV producer.
“I was at a point where I was pretty sick of racing," says Lachlan, “and Gus was tired of working and doing what he was doing, so that was just escapism in a way. It turned out to be a better escape, I think, and a more constructive or productive escape, where you came out of it as a better person.”
The second chapter was filmed in Colorado in 2015 with the company of two other pros, Taylor Phinney and Cameron Wurf. But even though the Morton brothers put in a massive amount of kilometers while riding and filming for Thereabouts, training or improving their general fitness was never the purpose of the trip. At its base, Thereabouts for Angus is just “a good time," while for Lachlan it kind of compares to “therapy and meditation”.
“Sure,” adds Angus, “There is a training effect, but during these giant rides we don’t look at them as training. Training is something you do in order to reach a goal, and there is no goal with these trips. The trip itself is the goal, so we do those type of days because that’s what we want to do, that’s what we like doing. We like spinning and trashing ourselves if we feel like it.”
“It’s still turning circles with your legs,” echoes Lachlan. “I guess the difference is that if you’re in peak condition for a race compared to Thereabouts trips, after Thereabouts trips you’re probably allowed to drink more beer and continue to race, and if you’re in peak condition for a race you probably, you know, would maybe be a little bit faster. Beyond that, [Thereabouts] is not a training exercise by any chance. You get more out of it mentally than physically.”
The first trip turned out to be a milestone for both of them. Angus returned to racing in 2014 after four years and finished third in the Tour of Malaysia (which he rode without a team).
Lachlan went through a hard season in 2014, but in the same time he and his brother made the decision to find a team ready to sign them both for the next year. That team was the Continental’s Jelly Belly. It meant a step down from the World Tour for Lachlan, but it was a kind of choice that sounds like a redemption. And with his overall victory at the 2016 Tour of Utah, he earned another place in the pro peloton with the team Dimension Data. This time, though, he looks at the whole thing from a different point of view.
“[Thereabouts] is good for perspective,” says Lachlan, “and to help you realise why you do what you do, like racing, and why bike riding is really a privilege. It makes you enjoy the whole process more and you realise every hour spent on the bike is a privilege.”
“It made me ride again,” says Angus. “It changed completely my perspective of cycling and of riding. I began to enjoy it for the first time in probably 10 years.”
Aside from the next Thereabouts (not yet confirmed but they already have “some ideas"), the Mortons will soon launch their own YouTube channel “As a way to produce more consistent content throughout the year," says Angus. “It'll be a mixture of behind the scenes of our lives as well as bits and pieces that didn't make the cut for each of the films – extended interviews, outtakes and things like that.”