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The pair came into the race as genuine riders to watch but a heavy crash for Howes, and a series of mechanicals for Morton ultimately scuppered their chances of podium places.
Morton would eventually finish a highly creditable sixth behind winner Keegan Swenson, while Howes would trail home in 64th after his crash. His injuries mean that he will not race SBT GRVL on Sunday. Howes won the gravel race in 2021.
“Definition of a freak accident? Like a hare in a snare, I ‘got got’ out there today,” Howes wrote on an Instagram post after the 100-mile event.
“Really bummed as things were going well and the mojo was up. Double bummed it means no SBT GRVL for me tomorrow. Nothing broken but it feels like I got kicked in the chest by a horse (no, that’s not an exaggeration). Taking quarter breaths and licking my wounds for a while here. Still planning to make the trip to SBT tomorrow to help bring the vibes. Just too many great people so close to home it’s silly not to make the trip. If you see me out there please do say hi, but for the love of all that is good in this world, NO HUGS.”
In an Instagram reel, Howes explained what happened to him on the course and exactly what had taken him out of contention.
“Everything was going well until it didn’t. Bummer for Lachlan with a blown mechanical but things were going well and we were both sitting in the top-10 and feeling good. We were on this buffed out double track and going super fast and I caught my foot on a wire from a fence that had been hiding in the grass. I went from 30 mph to zero, just like that. The wire cut into my shoe, into the carbon. My ribs are messed up.”
For Morton, it was simply a case of bad luck and then managing his effort after losing ground to the key favorites out on the course. The Australian would finish in a highly respectable time of 6:24:09.
“Things came together really nicely today and my legs felt really good. I pushed the first two climbs with Keegan Swenson and Alexey Vermulen keen to put the good legs two use,” he wrote on Instagram.
“Unfortunately on the decent of Powerline I flatted (still no idea what I hit) which was frustrating because I was consciously being cautious. Plugged it, gassed up. Got moving to lose all air again, found another small leak on the rim, another plug.”
Morton receive a new front wheel but by that point his hopes of the win were effectively over. Morton will, however, have the chance to put his obvious good form to use on Sunday at SBT GRVL.
“Spent the day racing solo, got up to 6th but it was overall pretty frustrating day after putting quite a bit of prep in. Another chance tomorrow.”