Lachlan Morton’s Alt-Tour: a 3,400 mile race with 1 competitor
The business aspect of Morton’s racing actually echoed the original Tour just as much as his return to the days of solo racing. In 1903, faced with declining readership and stiff competition, the French newspaper L’Auto created the Tour – a protracted spectacle of grotesque dimensions – in order to increase its circulation. The brutality of the race proved irresistible to the spectators. It was the first stage race in road cycling, with stretches over 400 kilometers long, and it was contested not only by professional cyclists but also by carpenters, blacksmiths, teachers. (This year’s longest stage is just under 250 kilometers.) In the pages of L’Auto – whose circulation more than doubled in that first race – the drama was captured in photos of contenders like LÃ©on Georget, who was so exhausted that he passed out on the side of a road after stopping to repair his bike.
The same kind of struggle was evident to those who followed Morton’s setbacks via Rapha’s Instagram feed. Within a week of starting the alternate tour, he had switched from blister breastfeeding to trench foot defense. His performance in the Alps was hampered by the weight of his camping gear and his tires were so punctured that he eventually had to tie a knot in an inner tube to continue.
Against a background map of France, the rider appeared as a pink dot, moving slowly across the landscape.
It is, of course, more than the promise of pain and glory that makes the Tour de France, and its alternate version of Morton, so compelling. Many bike races are tough enough to push riders into a state of zombie misery, but none other than the Tour has transcended the sport itself through 108 editions. One of the reasons, according to the theoretician of French literature Roland Barthes, is due to the role of the Tour in the reconstitution each summer of the âmaterial unityâ of his country. The race takes place in the world, not in a stadium, and its competitors become, however briefly, a part of every community they pass through, slowly binding the land together into a national whole. âIt has been said that the French are not very geographerâ, Barthes wrote in 1960. âIts geography is not that of books, it is that of the Tour; every year, thanks to the Tour, he knows the length of its coasts and the height of its mountains.
Thanks to Morton, I rediscovered the length of these coasts and the height of these mountains, years after doping scandals took me away from cycling. At alt-tour website, its geographical progression can be followed in real time. The experience was incredibly fascinating: against a background map of France, the rider appeared as a pink dot, slowly moving across the landscape. A few paths behind him was a black dot representing the progressing Tour de France peloton, which Morton managed to outrun – an unprecedented experience for the companion rider. (Normally, he would be in the service of a team manager considered a contender for the victory of the Tour, in charge of sheltering him from the wind or bringing him bottles of water.) He has reached mid-point. – course of his turn with an advance of about 850 kilometers on his pursuers – a buffer necessary in the second half of his journey, in the middle of the steep mountains and the loss of 800 kilometers in transfers. And at the end, he reached Paris, a few days before the peloton.