Professional cyclist drives 1,000 kilometers for Ukrainian refugees

Australian professional cyclist Lachlan Morton, whose ultra-endurance performance has benefited charities around the world over the years, is embarking on yet another epic journey to raise money to support Ukrainian war refugees.

The 30-year-old rider for the American team EF Education-EasyPost will depart from Munich on a non-stop, 1,063-kilometer-long odyssey that will carry him through the Czech Republic and Poland and eventually to the Ukrainian border at Krakow.

Morton was inspired to take his latest ride while driving the Gran Camino in Spain. He was eating breakfast with his Ukrainian teammate, Mark Padun, when the news came that Russia had invaded the country. Morton began researching maps on the Internet and thought to himself, “I could actually do this.”

“It made it hit closer to home, with a teammate directly affected by it,” Morton said. “I had a hard time focusing on trying to get ready for a race when something so important happened in the world.

“I’m generally a pretty optimistic person,” said Morton, a native of Port Macquarie in Australia’s New South Wales, “but in the last few weeks I’ve just felt like there’s been very little to be excited about. “to get your head around. It’s surreal in a way. You see the news, and the news is so heavy that you almost free yourself from it.”

Morton has accomplished much in his professional cycling career: He won the Tour of Utah, competed in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana – two of the three Grand Tours – and finished second in last year’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.

Yet it has been Morton’s charity trips where he only runs towards himself that has perhaps had the greatest impact.

Last summer, he drove the entire Tour de France route, including the hundreds of miles between stages where racing drivers would normally be transferred by the motor trainer, and he did so completely self-sufficiently. He ended up traveling 3,424 miles in 19 days and raised more than $ 600,000 to buy thousands of bikes for World Bicycle Relief.

His goal this time is a little more modest: raise $ 50,000 for Ukrainian refugees.

“I’m not an overly political person. I’m not an expert on any of this,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the one thing I know how to do and engage the cycling community to help. My idea is to highlight the fact that war is not a remote problem. Conflicts are a bike ride away all over the world. That is the intention behind it, and to try to raise as much money as we can to help people who have been displaced. ”

Morton’s often daring rides are rare in cycling because his professional team, led by former American rider Jonathan Vaughters, actually supports the effort. Many other teams micro-manage riders with strict training plans designed to deliver them at their highest for the most important races in the calendar.

In fact, the team’s primary sponsor, EF Education First, along with bike sponsor Cannondale and apparel sponsor Rapha have committed $ 100,000 to the GlobalGivings Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. The money will be used to provide refugees with food, shelter, clean water and health care along with access to education and other financial assistance.

There are no major cycling races in Russia, unlike sports such as tennis or football, but the Gazprom-RusVelo pro team has been excluded from competition by the International Cycling Union. The team, which has nine Russian riders, is sponsored by PJSC Gazprom, a multinational energy company with connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Several of the team’s sponsors, including bike manufacturer Look, canceled their partnerships after the invasion.

“The UCI calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and strongly condemns Russia’s violation of international law,” the president of the governing body, David Lappartient, said in a statement late last month. “Our thoughts go to the Ukrainian people as well as Ukraine’s cycling community. No UCI event is planned to take place in Russia or Belarus in 2022.”

Still, there are dozens of professional riders attached to Russia and Ukraine competing on the World Tour. One of them, Pavel Sivakov, changed his nationality from Russian to French after the invasion – a step that took effect immediately when it came to cycling. Sivakov was born in Italy and raised in France by Russian parents.

“I am totally against this war and all my thoughts are with the Ukrainian people,” Sivakov said in a statement. “Like most people around the world right now, I hope for peace and a speedy end to the suffering that is happening in Ukraine.”

Then there is Padun, a former Ukrainian national time trial champion who has provided the inspiration behind Morton’s charity drive this weekend. He was born in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has long been an epicenter of pro-Russian separatists and still has family and friends living in the war-torn nation.

“Honestly, I do not know what people should do. I do not know what I can personally do,” said Padun. “What the people of Ukraine need is to stop the war. But what Lachlan is doing is good. The more people who talk about it, the better. It’s great that he’s raising money for Ukrainian refugees as well.”

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