EF Education-NIPPO pro road rider Lachlan Morton has gained fame in recent years for astonishing feats of cycling endurance. His October contribution to the team’s Alternative Racing Programme is the Absa Cape Epic.
Lachlan was originally meant to be riding with EF Education-Nippo team mate Alex Howes, but the former US road champ and winner of this year’s 230km SBT GRVL classic broke his pinky finger in the build-up to the event, not an injury you can carry through the Untamed African MTB Race. Howes’ replacement came from an unexpected source: the AMANI Project, an initiative that works to provide African cyclists with opportunities to race and to build stronger communities on the continent by encouraging people to cycle, in the form of 25-year-old Kenneth Karaya.
“We were devastated. It wasn’t easy to find motivation to search for a new partner when we’ve been on this journey so long.” In Kenneth, he saw one of Kenya’s top mountain bikers and an active entrepreneur within the Kenyan cycling community. “I figured it was a perfect match and I reached out, hoping it would work out.”
For Lachlan, the atmosphere of the Absa Cape Epic is unmatched. “Even the UCI field seems less stressed. Everybody races hard, but we still chat and have a beer afterwards. And then we get to eat dinner with the guys who have taken three, four hours longer than us for the day. I know what they are going through, I have ridden 12 hours, I feel their suffering, but we all have this shared experience and respect. I get paid to ride my bike, they have to work and do family and still train. I feel privileged to share this with them.”
“I was excited and worried at the same time,” admits Kenneth about the moment - just two weeks before the event - he discovered he would be riding his dream event with the crazy guy who rode rode the Tour de France on his own. “Kinjah [David, Kenyan cycling’s elder statesman] always had his number boards from the events he rode in the Simbas clubhouse, when I joined them seven years ago. He always told us it was the best mountain bike race in the world. We all dreamed of riding it.”
"It has been so rewarding for me. He’s really green in terms of his exposure to racing, he had to jump like three levels just to be here. I am enjoying managing his baptism of fire ..."
When he isn’t hanging onto the wheel of an endurance cycling legend, Kenneth is an uber-entrepreneur. He teaches other people to ride, wrenches bikes and motorbikes, sells second-hand bikes and runs a ten-strong fleet of bodabodas - the quintessential Kenyan motorbike taxi. That’s a lot to manage around his usual 18-hour training week which allows him to be one of the top mountain bikers in Kenya. “I wasn’t very well prepared for this event, if I am honest. I had been very busy with my businesses, and I only knew two weeks before, so it was difficult, but Lachlan has been very patient, and I am getting stronger every day. The trails are so technical, but I am getting better.”
The ‘lucky’ theme extends to Lachlan’s growing relationship with Kenneth. “It has been so rewarding for me. He’s really green in terms of his exposure to racing, he had to jump like three levels just to be here. I am enjoying managing his baptism of fire; teaching what I can, but without bombarding him. I haven’t really been in this position before.” Lachlan has often been the youngest in his team (he turned pro at 18, he’s now 29), or in control of his own solo future on the various cycling adventures has tackled. The new mentor role suits him, and his enjoyment is palpable.
“And I am learning so much from Kenneth, off the bike. We spend hours just chatting in the camper van, about everything. The challenges he has faced just getting on a bicycle, and here I am with it all provided. He has to work out how to put food on the table before he can train or race. He reminds me, daily, how lucky I am doing what I do.”
For Kenneth, this is a beginning, an opportunity David Kinjah told him to grab with both hands. “He told me it would be a good chance, even if it wasn’t my best chance. I want to go back home, now, and train and find sponsorship to come back. I want to win that Absa African jersey. For a start. We can win it all for Africa.”