Gearing up for the Alt Tour

A sleeping pad, a stove, and a baguette in his pocket

The Tour de France’s first racers had to fend for themselves. Starting before dawn and riding into the night, they covered huge distances on their single-speed steel bikes. All day, their wheels rattled over rutted and potholed tracks. Derailleurs weren’t introduced until the late 1930s. In the full heat of summer, they had to find their own provisions at roadside cafés, stuffing their pockets with bottles of mineral water, lemonade, and wine to quench their thirst. 

 

One year, Abdel-Kader Zaaf drank a bit too much wine during the race and decided to take a nap under a tree. Some supporters found him and woke him to tell him that the peloton was on its way. Startled, he jumped back on his bike and sped off in the wrong direction. 

 

For years, riders were expected to repair their own bikes too. Outside assistance was long forbidden. When Eugene Christophe broke his fork in the Pyrenees during the 1913 race, he had to carry his bike 14 kilometres down a mountain to find a blacksmith’s shop. There, he asked a boy who worked at the forge to pump the bellows while he fixed the metal. That got him a time penalty. Even into the 1950s, riders would start each day with tyres slung across their shoulders to mount if they got a flat. The Tour de France was an athletic contest, but it was also supposed to be a test of character, resilience, and self-reliance. That spirit appeals to Lachlan Morton. It is what inspired him to take on the alt-Tour. He is making his own rules though.

 

“I am carrying my stuff and looking after myself,” he says, “so deem it whatever you want. Being largely self-sufficient is just a really nice, pure way to experience a place. You are doing it with everything that you need on your bike. In my opinion, it’s one of the most pure forms of riding that you can do.”

At the start of the season, Lachlan opted to go up a frame size on his Cannondale SuperSix EVO, so that he would be able to fit more gear into its main triangle. He’ll be doing the alt Tour on the same bike that he has raced on all year.

 

“I’ve done a lot of bike packing on that bike and it’s the perfect tool for the job,” he says.

 

The trick is to carry as little as possible, but everything he needs. Packing was a matter of weighing options—quite literally—and making compromises. A proper foam sleeping pad will be Lachlan’s biggest luxury for the next three weeks. He has a change of clothes and a few rain jackets with him, as well as an inflatable pillow, a bivvy, and a sleeping bag, a pot and a burner to cook, a water bladder, a powerbank to charge his phone, lights, and spare tubes and tyres. That’s about it.

 

“It’s not a huge amount of excess,” he says, “but the amount of stuff that you need to ride and live for three weeks accumulates pretty quickly.”

 

If he runs into a mechanical issue, Lachlan will do his best to fix it himself, but don’t expect him to go looking for carbon-fibre strips and resin if he breaks his fork, either. The point is to challenge himself, inspire people, and gain a profound understanding of France, its citizens and its landscapes. No overzealous officials will be looking over his shoulder, eager to dole out time penalties.

 

On the road, Lachlan will be stocking up at shops he passes, stopping at pâtisseries and boulangeries, and getting drinks at roadside bars. He might have the odd beer or glass of wine now and then, before falling asleep for a few hours under the night sky. He’s got the route planned out on his Garmin though… 

 

5,510 kilometres to Paris.

Lachlan’s packing list

 

 

In his bag

/ Foam sleeping pad
/ Sleeping bag
/ Bivy
/ Camping pot
/ Camp burner
/ Water bladder
/ Powerbank
/ Spare lights and head lights 
/ Spare jerseys, bib shorts, Rapha puffy jackets and extra rain jackets
/ Spare inner tubes and tyres