Angus Morton is a professional bike racer for US Continental team Jelly Belly-Maxxis. He’s also one half of Thereabouts with his brother Lachlan, himself a professional bike racer for World Tour team Dimension Data.
Ahead of our screening this Wednesday of their new film Thereabouts 3: Discovering Colombia in aid of Qhubeka, we spoke to Gus about the latest film, his return to the professional ranks, and where Thereabouts might take him and his brother next.
“We fully shit ourselves at the thought that everyday was going to be seven hours through coal mines and up over 3500m dirt passes. It turned out to be pretty much that.”
Hi Gus, Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Where are you and what are you up to?
When I started writing this I was at home in Boulder Colorado. Since then I’ve been to California for a training camp and now I’m back where I started finishing this off.
You’ve recently released the third Thereabouts film, how’s the reception been so far?
So far the reception has been really good actually, well, from what I’ve been told anyway. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the film once we’ve finished making it. I usually hate it by then. We normally get a lot of hate thrown our way but there seems to be less this time. Maybe our mum is secretly moderating all the comments sections.
Why did you choose Colombia for the third film?
It kinda chose us actually. I wasn’t sure I was going to make another thereabouts film at all so we weren’t actively looking for somewhere to go and then Gregg from Wherenext (the prod company who made the film) and Wade at Cyclingtips got in contact with us about maybe making a third film in Colombia. We immediately said yes. For me the history of cycling in Colombia has always had this kind of magic surrounding it. It was as if the Colombians raced for different reasons, as if the intentions behind their style were to honor the roads and mountains they were racing on as much as it was to win. I have always felt the same way. To me racing is a lot more than just winning. So the opportunity to actually go to Colombia and catch a glimpse of that magic was more than enough reason to make another film.
It looked like an incredible trip. Are there any moments or days that particularly stick in your mind? If so which?
It was. There are so many moments that stick in my mind as significant for so many reasons. Colombia is like that, it’s so dynamic, the people, the landscape, the food, it all has its own humble but incredible story. To pick one I think I’d have to say the first proper day riding definitely sticks in my mind, because so much happened and it was so brutal. We fully shit ourselves at the thought that everyday was going to be seven hours through coal mines and up over 3500m dirt passes. It turned out to be pretty much that.
It feels like with this film, you’ve found a formula to take Thereabouts anywhere in the world. Is the plan to keep doing them?
Yeah I want to keep making them, however I don’t know if I want to stick to a formula. I like changing the focus of each film. This time it was about a country, last time it was our guests, maybe next time it might be the route or a history. That said we’re definitely more proficient at making these now, and having a proper production team from start to finish, something we haven’t had in the past, really took things up a level. That gives me confidence that we can go to any location in the world and make a quality if not-interesting film. And that’s our intention.
The Thereabouts journey has seen both yours and Lachlan’s lives change alot – did you ever think that when you decided to do the first trip, you would both be where you are now?
I had absolutely no idea. There were so many forks in the road and plenty of times where a sensible man would have hopped off the merry-go-round but for some reason I stayed on and it’s without a doubt the best thing I’ve done. I can remember the initial decision that ultimately led me to give up a career, move across the world to scrape by as a bike rider living in my parents house, and it was made after a couple bottles of wine with Lach on my balcony one night, which is kinda scary. I wonder if things would be the same if we’d only had one bottle that night. Once we started on this path though we were both so determined to make it work out how we wanted it to that it has. We’ve achieved pretty much everything we set out to on this journey.
“It’s difficult to make such a big call like that based on what’s best for you and not what you think ‘Future You’ might want…”
You must feel proud to see Lachlan return to the top tier of professional cycling so happy, motivated and on his terms, given your role in that journey…
Absolutely, but not because he’s back in the World Tour. I’m proud because of what he achieved over the last couple of years, how hard he worked and how much he’s grown up. Returning to the World Tour is a byproduct of that. I was just as proud when he chose to step away, because for him at the time it was absolutely the right thing to do but it was the decision to give something up and not the decision the accept something being offered to you, which is much harder I think. It’s difficult to make such a big call like that based on what’s best for you and not what you think ‘Future You’ might want or what everyone around you feels is the best thing for you.
You’ll be racing for Jelly Belly again in 2017 – what are your goals for the season ahead and beyond?
Yeah I’m here again this year which will be nice. I love the team, it truly is like a family. Danny, the boss, is like our crazy uncle, we spent New Years eve together just hanging out last year. I’ve never done that with a boss before.
This year will be a big change for me, I’ve been looking after Lachlan the past two seasons and this year I’ll have more freedom. Which is good, looking after Lach was a job I was comfortable in and stepping out of that gives added pressure and I think I need that. I need to get to winning. I was close on a few occasions last year and I think the added pressure will force me to go that extra one or two percent.
What was it like coming back to the sport after a few years away? Had much changed?
Pretty brutal. I did my body no favours in the years I was out of competition, absolutely no favours at all and it takes a lot of time to reverse that damage and recoup the physiology of an athlete. So coming back has been a tough challenge. When I started my coach told me it would be two to three years before I would be back to a high level. I called bullshit on that, I had finished 3rd in my first UCI race and 7th in my second, which was the hilly Aussie national championships so I thought I was back after like two months proper training. But those results were decided over one day and didn’t require me to back up day after day and race after race. That part has been the toughest, being able to go hard day after day, race after race. By the end of 2016 I was pretty much back to where I was when I stopped in 2010, so 2017 is for getting better than I’ve ever been. It’s been a lesson in patience and perseverance. Something that I really needed as a person.
Lachlan’s Tour of Utah win, and his final stage solo victory, was undoubtedly one of the highlights of last year – what was it like out on the road for the team during the final part of that dramatic stage?
Oh dude, it was a really stressful day. Right at the beginning of the stage the bunch completely split and we were at the very back (typical). We had to go really deep just to get back to the peloton. The wind made things hard and stressful, the break didn’t go for like 40k. So that was hard. I was in the break and I got the call over the radio halfway through the stage that 1st and 3rd on GC had a minute on the main field. So I had to stop at the side of the road and let them pass while I waited for the bunch. I was really nervous because I had no idea of what was going on, whether Lach was on a bad day or not. Once I got back in the group I had no time to communicate with him because I had to go straight to the front to chase. So I was just riding as hard as I could unsure if it was what we should be doing. We brought the leaders back at the base of the climb but the cross winds had fucked everyone so it wasn’t like we’d had an easy ride. Lach didn’t want anything at the base which is usually a bad sign. So as they rode away I still had no idea. About 10 kms later I was told by the crowd Lach was in front by a few minutes. Then it was a party. Truly one of the best moments of my life. When I started racing again I really believed Lach could win Utah or Colorado, and that was my ultimate goal to get him there, and to see him do that was the best.
“We get a lot of shit because people think that we think we are trying to be these ‘rebels’ who love being anti-establishment.”
What’s your take on the view that power meters are making professional bike racing boring? Was the #marginallosses approach of Thereabouts a reaction to that? How much of a ‘numbers’ guy are you in your professional life?
Haha – the marginal losses hashtag was actually a bit of a piss take because we knew that’s what our haters would expect us to be about – anything pro cycling isn’t. We get a lot of shit because people think that we think we are trying to be these ‘rebels’ who love being anti-establishment. But we are about as close to the Sex Pistols as we are the 60km hour.
In terms of power meters and by extension science in professional sport you would be ignorant to disregard it. Its like a TV network pretending Netflix doesn’t exist. Regardless of what you think it’s doing to the sport it’s real and as an athlete you have to embrace it. So for that reason it does have a place in our lives. However I don’t believe you can measure the human psyche and so to rely only upon data is also foolish. It’s a balancing act, knowing your body, knowing what’s sustainable for you and knowing when its the time to pay close attention to it and when to turn it off and go by feel.
As far as racing is concerned you cannot deny data has had an impact on the way races are raced and won, but I don’t think it is the sole reason why racing has changed. The rise of the Data Era coincides with the decline in the Doping Era and so as a clean athlete it’s just not possible to go all in everyday for a week, or three, regardless of how much data you can effectively analyze and translate into performance. I like to think the decline in doping has been a bigger influence than data. In order to bring back that spark It’s up to race organizers to also come to the party and change race formats. It’s ridiculous to think that you can have the same exciting racing over the same distances with athletes who aren’t lit up. Bring in shorter stages – remember the first week of the Giro in 2015, the shit was going down on stages with no major climbs or obstacles because they were 130km instead of 240km.
Thereabouts has taken you to some extreme riding locations. Is there a bit of kit that you just couldn’t go without?
A good pair of knicks.
We’ve got some pretty remote and challenging roads over here, would you ever consider a Thereabouts trip to the UK?
Yes, definitely. We have the belief that you can have an amazing adventure meeting people and stopping at places you never would have in your backyard. So the entire UK is a no brainer. You guys also speak English which regrettably is my only language and is something that really opens the adventure up.
What’s Outlands? We noticed the logo on yours and Lachlan’s shorts in the new film, and you’ve started posting a few pictures on Instagram….
Outlands is an extension of Thereabouts, its products we want but cannot find anywhere. Its in its infancy right now and I’m learning a lot setting it up. Hopefully you’ll see some stuff soon.
And finally – describe your perfect bike ride.
Its the one I’ll tell my grandchildren about. Again and again.
The last couple of remaining tickets for our screening of Thereabouts 3: Discovering Colombia in aid of Qhubeka are available to buy here.