When First Place is More than a Win

Lachlan Morton (see credits below)

If you live in Portland, you know it’s time for the Tour de France if you have a coffee and croissant at our local boulangerie.

The owner streams the event every year.

That’s one reason I love living in this burg: the French bodegas stream cycling, the Italians stream football (soccer) and the Brits stream Wimbledon.

The boulangerie attracts all sorts: GenXers swathed in running gear, mums pushing jogging strollers, gents wearing cycling cleats, and Alte Kakers walking hand-in-hand on a pandemic stroll.

We’re all consigned to watch a few minutes of the grueling Grande Tour while biting off a bit of puff pastry.

And that’s why Josh Hunt’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times is so captivating.

Hunt writes a delightful behind-the-scenes story about a cyclist who is completing the tour in a different dimension—kind of like the Twilight Zone.

Except that it is true.

Lachlan Morton is cycling the Tour de France on his own, without the benefit of a team—a mechanic, a cook or a bus driver—a “Solo Tour.”

That means he fixes his flat tires and sleeps under the stars, all on his own.

His journey is recorded on social media, and—what makes the story so extraordinary—is that it’s like watching an Antonioni movie where the action isn’t focused at the center of the camera lens: it’s off to the side.

That off-to-the-side feature echoes Tom Stoppard’s incomparable, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—where viewers watch the story of Hamlet unfold—offside—through the eyes of two minor characters.

Hunt writes from the theatre’s wings and shows how the 29-year-old Morton competes solo—in a team-like sport—cycling the same distance as the competitors plus an extra 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) because Morton rides the entire route unferried between stops.

Morton has no entourage, save the folks capturing his progress on social media.

And he has guts, courage and a little luck.

After reading the story, I checked the Internet for an update because the Times article had to make print by Sunday before the race officially ended.

According to CNN—the favorite—Slovenian Tadej Pogačar—finished first in the official race.

But Morton completed the race days earlier and beat the pack.

A reporter for NPR—James Doubek—notes Morton “beat everyone to the finish in Paris by five days.”

Morton “crossed the unofficial finish line at 5:30 a.m.” on Tuesday, July 15, “after 3,424 miles in 18 days, including ascents up some of France’s famously brutal mountains,” Doubek writes.

Hunt’s story captures the athleticism (and hubris) Morton exuded during the extreme effort.

I find it impressive to hear how Morton adds value to a race by declining a warm bed and shower, and forgoing bussing between outposts.

And he shows that you can win on your own terms—whether or not you earn first place.

Photo by Valentine Chapuis/AFP via Getty Images, story from the Associated Press, 15 July 2021 at ESPN












About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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