Lanterne Rouge: the last man in the Tour de France by Max Leonard
Question: If you complete over 3,000 kilometres on a bike in France, overcoming mountain ranges and torrential weather conditions, while enduring physical and psychological agony in the 150th fastest time, should you be branded the loser?
What if the sacrifice helped a team mate win?
What if others lacked the determination to finish?
What if you were trying to come last?
Lanterne Rouge tells the absurd and often inspirational stories of the last placed rider in the Tour de France. The phrase comes from the French “Red Lantern” and refers to the red lantern hung on the caboose of a railway train, which conductors would look for in order to make sure none of the couplings had become disconnected
Another interesting cycling read to celebrate this Saturday’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France from Leeds is the autobiography of Chris Froome, the 2013 Tour winner.
Almost dropped by Team Sky a couple of years ago because of poor results, he was unaware that he was actually battling multiple debilitating and undiagnosed illnesses. Some of these were contracted in his boyhood in Kenya and ‘The Climb’ tells the fascinating and rather extraordinary story of his journey from a young boy riding around Nairobi through townships and past wild animals, and with few opportunities for an aspiring cyclist, to his unforgettable yellow jersey victory in the 2013 Tour.
Brought up by his mum in Kenya, he started cycling as a boy on a mountain bike under the wing of David Kinjah, whose philosophy was ‘you just get on a bike and go.’
He’s since had to cope with her death of his mother and battle his way to the top – his early results were poor! The books also chronicles his public rivalry with Bradley Wiggins and, most recently, the pressures of Lance Armstrong’s legacy.
The Tour de France starts in Leeds on Saturday and one of the books we’ve been reading is ‘Put me back on the bike’ by William Fotheringham. It’s about Tom Simpson, Olympic gold medallist, world champion and first Briton to wear the fabled yellow jersey of the Tour de France. He died a tragic death on the barren moonscape that is Mont Ventoux during the 1967 tour.
The book details Simpson’s rise to cycling fame from working class roots, his move to France with £100 in his pocket and his pursuit of winning at all costs and what motivated him.
He was a man of contradictions, one of the first cyclists to admit to using drugs or ‘tonics’ as they were often called, and a self publicist ahead of his time. He was also accused of fixing races yet despite his flaws, ‘Major Tom’ as he was known was deeply mourned. The part about his actual death shows someone with an obsessive will to win and is very affecting. Highly recommended.
Tom Simpson wrote his own autobiography ‘Cycling is my Life’