Is it really worth it?
Is it really worth not-so-accidentally losing the back wheel of the peloton to fall away and mark your rival for 185th place?
Is it really the best idea to ride 20+ Tour de France stages with a focus on losing time?
The ‘Lanterne Rouge’ is the name given to the last place finisher in cycling’s biggest event and at various points through history the answer to all three of these questions has been an emphatic, YES!
The Tour is immensely proud of its rich history. Winners are paid their due respect and riders will go through their whole careers hoping for an appearance in the Tour de France record books. Overtime, finishing last became a badge of honour reading something like: ‘I suffered the most but at least I finished’. It was affectionately given the nickname ‘The Lanterne Rouge’ based on the light hung on the back of trains to aid signalmen.
However, the Tour became massively popular and madness ensued in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Riders saw the Lanterne Rouge as an opportunity to developing a following, give interviews and race invitational events. In 1979 we saw our first notable battle with Gerhard Schonbacher snatching fame from Philippe Tesniere. It was a rather fortunate ‘victory’ with Tesniere disqualified for missing the time cut on the final time trial.
Coming last at the Tour de France is much harder than it looks. The time cut had always prevented ridiculous displays of non-effort but in 1980 organisers introduced a rule to remove the last rider in the General Classification from stages 14 to 20. Finishing last became a big event and the Tour organizers knew they had to cut back on publicity.
The best Lanterne Rouge stories are the result of a genuinely exhausted rider surviving elimination each day, often shedding time to even the Grupetto.
Last year we saw Sam Bennett take the accolade by 16 minutes. He finished in the top 150 on just two occasions but that included a ninth place on the very last stage. In 2014 it was the turn of loyal domestique Cheng Ji who finished over six hours behind Vincenzo Nibali; he was bottom of the pack by a whopping 50 minutes.
So who are the favourites to bring up the rear in 2017? Bennett’s not riding so we need to look elsewhere for potential candidates. We can start with the wildcard Pro Continental teams who are often packed with brave but inexperienced riders. Wanty-Groupe Gobert are the wildest of this year’s selection but their team looks steady on paper. Perhaps only Pieter Vanspeybrouck is capable of taking the Lanterne Rouge.
Another rider who could go low is Adrien Petit – a fast finisher and leadout man for Direct-Energie. Sticking with the French teams, FDJ’s Davide Cimolai has previous when it comes to finishing towards the bottom of a GC. Leadout men seem to suffer for their efforts and if Robert Wagner finishes the race he’s another that’s sure to be scraping the top 170.
If you want to go with a more familiar Tour de France name then debutant Rick Zabel – son of Erik – comes to mind. Zabel goes quite well on rolling terrain but may find his first Tour to be on a whole new level.
I hope the Lanterne Rouge is given just the right amount of air time. It doesn’t deserve equal footing with any of the race jerseys but it’s a fun subplot to follow over the three weeks of racing. Roll on Dusseldorf.
About the Author: Mike Franchetti owns the site www.justprocycling.com, producing race previews, top five lists and rider profiles, as well as tweeting predictions and other nonsense off @justprocycling.
Featured image from: http://www.rfi.fr/sports/20150718-tour-france-gloire-lanterne-rouge-