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Lanterne Rouge

| Blog, Cycling Plus | 25/07/2013 17:20pm

Cyclists are a competitive bunch. Faster, harder, higher is the mantra that so many of us live by. This goes some way to explain the roaring success of Strava.

The pursuit of KOM’s has changed the feel of many a weekend cafe ride, with normally mild-mannered riders tearing off at the first hint of a segment. I have to confess to being a bit of an addict myself – a favourable tailwind and I’m making last minute route adjustments to nab that precious hill. It’s getting a bit out of hand though. My club’s 10 mile Time Trial course now includes eleven segments and on an innocuous stretch of road near my house you can compete to be the fastest over a paltry 100 feet. Miss out on a KOM by a split second and what felt like an enjoyable blast through the countryside can leave you feeling a bit deflated.

There is another way. As Marcel Kittel strained every sinew to take the honours on the Champs Elysee and Chris Froome and the rest of Team Sky popped the champagne corks, you would have been excused for failing to notice Svein Tuft crossing the line. The Orica Greenedge rider may not have taken one of the illustrious jerseys, but the Canadian time triallist did claim a famous prize: the Lanterne Rouge. Awarded to the rider that finishes last, the honour might seem like one to avoid, but there’s an important word in that sentence – “finishes”. The lucky rider has to drag their weary frame through 3404 kilometres without giving up, crashing or being disqualified. No mean feat. In past years, the Lanterne Rouge would make more money in the post-Tour criteriums than the other also-rans, creating a bit of competition for last place. In 1979, Philippe Tesnière rode so slowly in a Time Trial in an attempt to cement his position, that he missed the cut and was thrown out of the race. Could this principle apply to us mere mortals? On a recent trip to Majorca, I managed to finish 3446th on a segment in the mountains. It was an enjoyable ride, we stopped to admire the view, took some photos and basked in the sunshine. There was no disappointment at finishing so low on the leader-board – in fact over 200 riders did the segment slower. Perhaps I should have tried even less hard – could I have taken a prestigious Lanterne Rouge? It set me thinking. When so many of the local KOMs are now unachievable without the help of the wind gods or the recent innovation of “digital EPO”, perhaps it’s time to look at the other end of the table.

And so, having perused Strava and Jonathan O’Keefe’s website for the full segment history, we rode out one Saturday morning to set the slowest recorded time on a small hill in East Leicestershire. Upholding the principles of the Lanterne Rouge: no stopping or walking or crashing, turned out to be harder than it sounds. Without the track-standing skills of Chris Hoy, staying upright can be a bit troublesome as the pace plummets. The competitive edge took hold of course, but racing for last place on the leader-board made us do something that going hard for a KOM has never done – we had a laugh. We even made a video of our “efforts”. I was so enthusiastic that local cycle clothing company Velobici decided to turn the idea in a competition – giving tortoises everywhere the chance to win some lovely goodies. Next time you find yourself on a hill, don’t push yourself into the red – try easing yourself into the rouge!

The Velobici Lanterne Rouge competition runs until 31st August. Enter here: http://www.velobici.cc/the-lanterne-rouge-50-w.asp

Andy Ward

http://twitter.com/awkwardcyclist

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