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Raise one for the red lantern
July 26, 2008 1:32 PM   Subscribe

As the Tour de France concludes, let's spend a moment commemorating the derrière garde of world-class cycling, those bad enough to come in last but never bad enough to fail, les Lanternes Rouge. If Wim Vansevenant can retain his tenacious hold on 145th place in Sunday's stage he will be the worst cyclist to complete the Tour de France for three consecutive years and set a Tour record. You can, indeed, win by losing.

Vansevenant is currently 3 hours, 54 minutes and 51 seconds behind the leader but only 53 seconds behind the 144th placed rider, Bernhard Eisel. While Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans fight tooth-and-nail for the yellow jersey on the final promenade through the Champs-Élysées fans will be eagerly rooting for Evan's teammate Vansevenant to strike a third blow for the good enough.

Those fascinated by the slow end of the train can get their daily fill of news at the Tour de France Lanterne Rouge blog whose author gently reminds those who would mock anybody for finishing last in a 21 day long bike ride of 3,559 kilometers (2,211 mi): "You couldn't hang on his wheel for thirty seconds."
posted by ardgedee (53 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chapeau to Wim, but I'm sure Cadel Evans would have appreciated a little more help in the mountains!
posted by afx237vi at 1:43 PM on July 26, 2008


I do have to say that I'm with The Lanterne Rouge blog -- anybody who manages to even finish this grueling event has my admiration. It is a phenomenal physical and mental achievement. Great post - we usually only hear about the winners (or the dopers)!
posted by bluesky43 at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2008


"You couldn't hang on his wheel for thirty seconds."

Sure, but so what? I've never claimed I was good enough for the Tour. He seems to think he is.

But neat post anyways. I find this type of thing -- athletic epic fail? special Olympics for the non-retarded/handicapped? -- truly fascinating. Not sure why.

Shades of Eddie the Eagle as well.
posted by bardic at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


At least we can be fairly certain he's not using performance-enhancing drugs.
posted by basicchannel at 1:54 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fairly certain because, come on, this is the Tour de France... there's more drugs on the move than an episode of The Wire.
posted by basicchannel at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2008


180 riders started the Tour de France, and it's down to 145 riders now. I'd say just being able to finish is quite an accomplishment, and on an entirely different plane of accomplishment from Eddie the Eagle.
posted by needled at 1:57 PM on July 26, 2008


Ah, another sly Belgian takeover of a French cultural icon. Belgians now have the greatest -- Eddy Merckx -- and the worst -- Wim Vansevenant -- riders in Tour history.
posted by grounded at 1:58 PM on July 26, 2008


Shades of Eddie the Eagle as well.

Ski jumping is an individual sport. Eddie the Eagle was crap at it. Road cycling is a team sport. Vansevenant wasn't there to compete for the yellow jersey or win stages. He was there to do the donkey work for his team leader.

He finished 145th because he spent the early part of each stage fetching food and drink for his leader and chasing breakaways. Once his job was done, he eased off and took it easy so he could do the same thing the next day. Where's the shame in that?
posted by afx237vi at 2:04 PM on July 26, 2008 [14 favorites]


Shades of Eddie the Eagle as well.

Not at all. Wim Vansevenant is finishing within the time limit every day, or he would not be allowed to continue. He is a serious professional, it just happens that he isn't out there for standing in the overall classification. That's what makes the Lantern Rouge an interesting category.. Objectively, there is nothing negative about it at all, but it is still last place.

At least we can be fairly certain he's not using performance-enhancing drugs.

I wouldn't say that at all. While the extremes of performance reasonably attract extra suspicion, the rest of the peleton have almost as much motivation for drug use as the leaders.
posted by Chuckles at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2008


It is a phenomenal physical and mental achievement.

Actually, it's mostly a chemical and pharmocological achievement.
posted by sour cream at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2008


At the rate they've been disqualifying riders for drugs, I'm a bit surprised there's anyone left in the race.
posted by Class Goat at 2:14 PM on July 26, 2008


> I've never claimed I was good enough for the Tour. He seems to think he is.

His employer seems to think he is. Lotto has 27 riders, only nine of which go to the Tour de France every year, and Vansevenant has been in at least five Tours as a Lotto rider. This is remarkable in a sport where sponsorships are fickle and rosters change constantly. If Lotto didn't think he was doing his job, he would have been handily dropped at season's end years ago, or at least assigned to lower-ranked squads as a domestique in regional events.
posted by ardgedee at 2:16 PM on July 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Man, so much hate for Eddie the Eagle.

/single tear
posted by bardic at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would just like to say Scott-American Beef is the worst team name ever.
posted by needled at 2:22 PM on July 26, 2008


"currently 3 hours, 54 minutes and 51 seconds behind the leader"

That's only 4 seconds per kilometre. Very impressive considering I'd think at least 1 or 2 of those seconds are probably a matter of team requirements.

Mid-race, officials instituted a temporary rule: After each stage, the last-place racer would be eliminated. Mr. Schoenbacher defied the rule by finishing in second-to-last place until the final stage, when he plummeted down to collect his Lanterne Rouge.

This is hilarious, though I'm sure Tour officals didn't see it that way.
posted by Mitheral at 2:32 PM on July 26, 2008


bardic: "I find this type of thing -- athletic epic fail? ... -- truly fascinating. Not sure why. Shades of Eddie the Eagle as well."

I'll raise you Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani swimming the 100m freestyle in Sydney 2000.

He f'ing nails the flip turn.
posted by clearly at 2:41 PM on July 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think the race should continue indefinitely unless everyone quits but the last man. He would be the winner. No one else would place.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post. No glory in being second-to-last, but man, Lantern Rouge? That's huge.
posted by fixedgear at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2008


Epic fail? Oh heavens no sir, this is Epic Wim.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:54 PM on July 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


It has actually been a profoundly interesting Tour, in terms of drug use issues. Le Tour has withdrawn from the UCI, and a large block of professional teams have followed suit. On the surface, you might expect that the UCI would be the body that brings objective testing standards, but in fact the organization has a long record of ambiguous stances on performance enhancing drugs. They've traditionally been slow to add drugs to their banned list, slow to adopt IOC/WADA rules, and on occasion they have allowed high profile riders to bend the rules a little. While no one is saying it outright (I don't think), it is possible that one of the motivations of the split is that Le Tour wants a cleaner race than they could have under the auspices of UCI.

There are some very interesting interviews with Greg LeMond about some of these issues on velonews: 1, 2, 3.

On the other hand, yes, they are all on drugs. Under WADA rules you are allowed to use many "banned substances" as long as you have a "medical need", and register a Therapeutic Use Exemption. For example, almost all endurance athletes are "asthmatic".
posted by Chuckles at 3:05 PM on July 26, 2008


There's been an excellent ongoing analysis of the Tour and doping at The Science of Sport. Just thought I'd mention it.
posted by grounded at 3:19 PM on July 26, 2008


those bad enough to come in last but never bad enough to fail

Qualifying for Le Tour in the first place is hardly 'bad'. Seriously. This is the same attitude that prevails in much American Olympic coverage; "well, she only came in seventh, not a medal."

Yeah. Only seventh. In the world. You've got to be a pretty badass motherfucker to get to the Tour level of competition at all. Calling anyone 'bad' who makes it that far, well, I dunno. I'm pretty certain you think those grapes were sour, too.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:40 PM on July 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


While we're giving some appreciation to the underdogs of the Tour, can I just say that major props should also go to John-Lee Augustyn, the South African rider who began this year's race as the youngest competitor in the entire field (21 years of age).

Augustyn is currently sitting in 48th overall, and made a big splash during stage 16. The stage featured the climb of the Cime de la Bonette-Restefond, which is actually the highest paved road in France, and he was the first rider to reach the summit. However, what happened a few seconds later was probably one of the scariest things I've ever seen while watching pro cycling. Luckily, he came out of it without any serious injuries, and will be riding up the Champs-Elysees tomorrow with the rest of the peloton.
posted by afx237vi at 3:58 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


> major props should also go to John-Lee Augustyn

Second that. He came out of nowhere into sixth place (over some real powerhouses like Lang and Popovych) in the climber standings with ascents like the one over de la Bonette. As he learns strategy and how to control his strength (and learns how to make descents) he has the potential to be an all-time great.

This has been the year for watching new talent duke it out. Some of the leading contenders have only been racing road bikes for a year. The coming decade's going to be a good one.
posted by ardgedee at 4:44 PM on July 26, 2008


Just from reading around it looks like this is about team roles rather than him being bad. His job is to sacrifice his own time and stamina to allow the other guys to have better times.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2008


At the rate they've been disqualifying riders for drugs, I'm a bit surprised there's anyone left in the race.

You must not pay much attention... three riders have tested positive, a whopping 1.67% of the TdF peloton. Even if you include Piepoli (fired by Saunier Duval-Scott), that's 2.22%.
posted by The Michael The at 5:34 PM on July 26, 2008


Tour de Farce.
posted by bwg at 5:41 PM on July 26, 2008


Saunier Duval-Scott will be Scott-American Beef.

I'm a bit tired of the focus on doping, instead of the strategy, tactics, bicycle tech, and athleticism involved in professional cycling. I'd like to see how well, say, American professional baseball would fare under cyclings testing regimen.
posted by needled at 6:09 PM on July 26, 2008


Ardgedee: He came out of nowhere into sixth place (over some real powerhouses like Lang and Popovych)

I don't know that Popovych's performance in this year's tour qualifies him for 'powerhouse' status. For all the money Silence-Lotto spent on recruiting him, you'd like to think he'd manage to stay with Evans on at least some of the climbs. Hell, even Robbie McEwen hung on longer to the leading bunch than Popo on one stage!
posted by tim_in_oz at 7:23 PM on July 26, 2008


clearly-thanks for that Eric 'the eel' Moussambani video. Funny shit.
posted by hangingbyathread at 7:38 PM on July 26, 2008


derrière garde
arrière-garde

Go Cadel! (Although Sastre appears to be too strong at this point.)
posted by Wolof at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2008


Regardless of who finished last, I, for one, am very happy that Sastre will finish first!
posted by Elpoca at 8:17 PM on July 26, 2008


People who cynically and casually throw out BS statements like "They're all dopers" are doing very little except showing their ignorance. Cycling is one of the few sports making any visible effort whatsoever to catch dopers and the amount of dirty laundry is getting less each year. Cycling is just the first sport to go through this visible cleaning up process. It's going to be interesting to see how baseball, football, and other sports go the same thing over the coming years. After all, everybody in baseball takes steriods, right?

And yes, giving a domestique a hard time for not being high in the GC is like saying an offensive lineman doesn't deserve to be in the superbowl because he hasn't scored enough touchdowns. That's NOT HIS JOB ON THE TEAM.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:54 PM on July 26, 2008


afx237vi writes "However, what happened a few seconds later was probably one of the scariest things I've ever seen while watching pro cycling."

What the heck happened? It looked like a controlled ride right over the edge.
posted by Mitheral at 8:59 PM on July 26, 2008


...and since my comment above was so bitter, I'll relate a (slightly) amusing story told by television commentator and former pro cyclist Paul Sherwen. A few years ago, whilel filling time during one of the somewhat routine flat stages, conversation between himself and Phil Liggett swung around to the tradition of the lantern rouge. Paul explained how he was in last place for the better part of a week during the tour. He hated the designation and each time he clawed his way up to next-to-last place, the guy in last would quit in disgust... making Paul the lantern rouge AGAIN.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:03 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


LastOfHisKind writes "giving a domestique a hard time for not being high in the GC is like saying an offensive lineman doesn't deserve to be in the superbowl because he hasn't scored enough touchdowns. That's NOT HIS JOB ON THE TEAM."

While obviously silly to someone familiar with cycling the two situations aren't exactly the same. The winner of the race isn't a team but rather a single rider. IE: Lance Armstrong won the tour 7 times not who ever his team was.

Still a great achievement. I barely put 4K kilometres on my bike in a year, less than half of that on any kind of grade..
posted by Mitheral at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2008


Lance Armstrong won the tour 7 times not who ever his team was.

Believe me, Lance wouldn't have won without a first rate team and every rider on it working for him. That's the point.
posted by cccorlew at 10:37 PM on July 26, 2008


Yes, I know. But of the people who know who Lance Armstrong is a sizable percentage are ignorant of the team nature of cycling. Ask them what team won the Tour de France seven times in a row and they are going to say "which what now? Lance won it".

The wikipedia page on the tour is typical of this view. It lists individuals as winners not teams, even for those years where the teams were national instead of commercial. Compare and contrast to the SuperBowl or World Cup.
posted by Mitheral at 11:15 PM on July 26, 2008


Hmm . . . perhaps it's time to review a little about team strategy in pro bicycle racing, and in particular the role of the domestique: "Unique among athletes, the domestique's own performance (finish time) is considered unimportant as long as he/she can help his/her leader achieve a better position in the race."

As the article itself says, "'He can ride at the front all day when we need him to,' said Mr. Sergeant as he stood beside Mr. Vansevenant near their team bus. 'But when his part is done, he has the intelligence to know he should relax so he can come back strong the next day.'"

The role of this kind of rider is to go all out for his leader when necessary but then when that job is done, on purpose lay off and conserve energy so that he can ride strong in support of the team leader the next day and the next and the next.

In fact you could say that this guy is cleverer at this particular role than all the rest, because he's managed to conserve the max amount of energy without actually going so slow as to miss any of the daily time cutoffs and get eliminated--as many riders have.

IE: Lance Armstrong won the tour 7 times not who ever his team was.

That's kind of a funny statement since the keys to Armstrong's success were exactly the strength of his team plus the particularly disciplined way he made use of it.
posted by flug at 12:44 AM on July 27, 2008


> The winner of the race isn't a team but rather a single rider.

On the contrary, in addition to best rider (yellow jersey), there is also best team, best climber (red-on-white dotted jersey), best sprinter (green jersey), and awards for most aggressive rider in a stage. Team CSC-Saxobank won a rare hat trick this year by being the best squad as well as having the yellow and white jerseys on board.

What the general public knows about cycling has very little to do with what a significant achievement is in cycling.
posted by ardgedee at 6:01 AM on July 27, 2008


Best young rider = white jersey, which you sorta mentioned ardgedee. There is also an award given by the press to the sort-of-most-press-friendly-rider and Cadel Evans sould be a shoe-in (kidding here).
posted by fixedgear at 7:44 AM on July 27, 2008


What the general public knows about cycling has very little to do with what a significant achievement is in cycling.

Indeed and double indeed.
posted by cccorlew at 7:50 AM on July 27, 2008


flug writes "perhaps it's time to review a little about team strategy in pro bicycle racing, and in particular the role of the domestique:"

I don't have to review, I know the functions of team members. The only thing I was objecting to was the statement : "giving a domestique a hard time for not being high in the GC is like saying an offensive lineman doesn't deserve to be in the superbowl because he hasn't scored enough touchdowns. That's NOT HIS JOB ON THE TEAM." as it applies to the general public. Obviously cycling fans would never give a domestique a hard time for garnering les Lanternes Rouge. The only people who would are the less informed. The people who get all their cycling news from the local evening news don't even know what a domestique is let alone his job. Something they can't really be blamed for a the Tour is presented to the non cycling fan as an individual sport rather than the team sport that American Football is presented as.

Specifically the headlines in 2005 read "Lance Armstrong wins 7th straight Tour de France" not "Discovery scores 7th win". The Tour wikipedia page is full of this celebration of individual achievement. The entire statistics section is about so and so individual winning assorted milestones. Because of this emphasis on the individual winner the "Jay Walking" crowd doesn't know that there are people entered in the race who don't have as a goal personally coming in first place where they all know that the goalie isn't expected to score goals, an AL pitcher make homeruns or a lineman score touchdowns. Ask a Canadian who won the World Series last year and they'll say the Red Sox not Mike Lowell. Ask the same person who won the Tour last year and if they even know (now that it's not an American) they'll say Alberto Velasco not Discovery Channel.

ardgedee writes "What the general public knows about cycling has very little to do with what a significant achievement is in cycling."

Exactly. No one who knows anything about cycling is going to discount the achievements of supporting team members. Only the ignorant. Not something you can really blame them for though because the publicity cycling gets presents it as an individual sport unlike football. Casual observers are going to think it's an individual sport and as such scoring dead last isn't something they are going to celebrate regardless of the persons achievements for their team.
posted by Mitheral at 8:13 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think gregario is preferable to domestique, but that's just my bias.
posted by fixedgear at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2008


Do you prefer gruppetto or autobus?
posted by needled at 4:03 PM on July 27, 2008


Two words: Greg LeMond.
posted by bwg at 4:12 PM on July 27, 2008


I like laughing group, but if forced to choose it would be grupetto. Autobus? WTF? P.S. Why is Greg so bitter? In court vs. Trek, will litigate for food?
posted by fixedgear at 5:13 PM on July 27, 2008


But of the people who know who Lance Armstrong is a sizable percentage are ignorant of the team nature of cycling. Ask them what team won the Tour de France seven times in a row and they are going to say "which what now? Lance won it".

Sure, but those people don't count for shit, because they don't ride bicycle. Hell, most of them are probably aren't involved in any sport whatsoever. Any opinion they have of the Tour is utterly, absolutely, and forevermore worthless.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:13 PM on July 27, 2008


Well, I guess I don't count for shit then. I ride my little bike to uni and back and don't know anything at all about competetive cycling. But hey! I read this article, and the thread, and now I've learnt about the domestique and the team nature of the race and all these interesting things!

Maybe if instead of disregarding the rest of us as ignorant people with worthless opinions, a bit of guidance would help us to understand and appreciate the sport you care so much about.
posted by twirlypen at 10:46 PM on July 27, 2008


five fresh fish: "Sure, but those people don't count for shit, because they don't ride bicycle. Hell, most of them are probably aren't involved in any sport whatsoever. Any opinion they have of the Tour is utterly, absolutely, and forevermore worthless."

Bullshit. I don't ride a bike, nor am I involved in any sport. Mainly because I have a form of muscular dystrophy, but hey, that's life. Does that stop me loving the Tour? No way. I love the Tour. In fact I love pro cycling, from Het Volk to the Giro di Lombardia and everything in between. I watch every race I can find coverage of and I understand every tactic and nuance. I correct Phil Liggett whenever he makes a mistake for fuck's sake (and he makes more and more every year).

Is my opinion worth less because I don't ride a bike? If you think so, that's your problem, but personally I think an attitude like that is nothing more than elitist snobbery.
posted by afx237vi at 6:41 AM on July 28, 2008


Any opinion they have of the Tour is utterly, absolutely, and forevermore worthless.

Well, I now consider someone's opinion worthless, but it's not who you had in mind.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2008


Before you get your riding shorts all up your crack, folks, I don't ride bicycle, didn't know the first thing about the Lanternes Rouge or domestiques, and am indeed very much one of those people whom a domestique would be well-advised to consider having an absolutely worthless opinion about the sport.

This has nothing to do with loving the Tour, etcetera. It has to do with the world of pro athletics, in which the opinion of one's peers is what really counts. Wim Vansevenant would be a fool to care what you or I think.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:35 PM on July 28, 2008


Yeah, but you can probably bet that he isn't doping or taking any drugs to help him achieve his goals. Seriously, this guy might be one of the purest riders out there.
posted by Rashomon at 9:30 PM on July 28, 2008


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