Monday, July 25, 2005

Finishing the Tour

We will probably go semi-dormant here for the next eleven months (thanks for reading!) although in the meantime I encourage readers to head over next February 11-26 to DFL, Jonathan Crowe's excellent blog which will cover last-place finishes at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games (200 days to go!).

On that Olympic note, I'd like to pass along these comments from Australian cyclist Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) about what an accomplishment it is to finish the Tour:
"I remember walking into the opening ceremony at the Atlanta Games and Stephen Hodge said to me that the final day in Paris was even bigger. I thought 'oh yeah.' Well it certainly is something different. It's because you've made it to Paris and through all you've been through over the 3000 kms, it's kinda harder than qualifying for the Olympics I think."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

2005 Tour Earnings

Euskaltel-Euskadi, the team of our Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores, earned a total of 9,310 euros (~US$11,172) for their participation in the 2005 Tour de France, the lowest earnings of the 21 teams. For the eight riders who made it through the Tour, that's 0.32 euro/km (62 cents/mile per rider).

The next lowest amount was earned by Saunier Duval, bringing home 12,070 euros (~$14,484). Six finishers, 0.55 euro/km ($1.07/mile per rider).

The highest: Discovery Channel - 545,640 euros (~$658,639). Eight finishers, 18.90 euro/km ($36.73/mile per rider), but traditionally the overall winner declines his 400,000 euro share and distributes it to his supporting teammates.

Stage 21: It's official

Everyone in the peloton got the same finish time today on the Champs Elysees, so the time gap results and rankings from yesterday remain in place today (aside from the sprinting time bonuses which allowed Vinokourov to finish in fifth place overall).

So our final five finishers in the 2005 Tour de France remain:

151st place, #162 Robert Forster, Gerosteiner rider from Germany: 4h 01' 40"

152nd place, #34 Daniel Becke, Illes Balears rider from Germany: 4h 02' 16"

153rd place, #127 Janeck Tombak, Cofidis rider from Estonia: 4h 03' 09"

154th place, #49 Wim Vansevenant, Davitamon-Lotto rider from Belgium: 4h 09' 25"

Finishing in the Lanterne Rouge position for the 2005 Tour de France: 155th place finisher out of 189 starters, #194 Iker Flores, Euskaltel-Euskadi rider from Spain: 4h 20' 24"

Congratulations to you all for finishing an extraordinarily tough event, including former Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli (23rd place overall).

Special congratulations to Iker Flores. Let's hope that those crazy Basque cycling fans (the bane of Tour organizer Jean-Marie LeBlanc) give you and the team a well-earned celebration when you return home to Spain.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

2005 Tour speed record

"This year's Tour de France is expected to go down in the record books as the fastest ever."

"Going into Saturday's penultimate stage, the average speed over the three weeks was 41.69 kilometers (25.91 miles) per hour. That compares to the record 40.94 kph (25.44 mph) set in 2003, when Lance Armstrong won his fifth consecutive Tour."

That's an *average* speed of 25.9 miles per hour, pedaling a bicycle over some incredibly daunting terrain including the Alps and the Pyrenees mountains, for 2118 miles (3408 km) in 19 days of riding.

Half the time, they rode even faster than that.

As of this morning, they still had 124 miles (199 km) to go.

Can anyone rightfully say that any rider who completes the Tour isn't a phenomenal athlete in his own right?

Every finisher is a champion

Martin Dugard had this to say about the riders in the Tour, on his excellent blog:
"The race started three weeks ago today. The peloton numbered 189
riders. Now it’s down to 155 and unlikely to change. As one Euskatel rider told
me yesterday, “we all want to go home, but we don’t want to go home yet.”
Meaning that the fatigue will soon be forgotten, but the memory of tomorrow’s ride up and down the Champs Elysees will last a lifetime. My point is this: The Tour de France is the pinnacle of cycling achievement (please, no emails about the RAAM). To ride in this event an aspiring cyclist has a lot of leeway. He doesn’t need to be the best racer in the world, just one of the top 189. It’s not easy to make it that far – not by a longshot (the numbers are daunting: anybody who ever pedaled around their local cul-de-sac could be considered an aspiring cyclist), but I would think that seeing it from that viewpoint would make the goal seem a little more attainable. Or maybe not, now that I think of it. The odds and numbers might be the same as making it to the NBA."

Stage 20: Individual Time Trial

From The back-of-the-pack riders that we have been following are first to go. Today's results will be decisive in the final general classification.

11:01 CEST The weather today is absolutely perfect for time trialling. There's no wind, it's slightly overcast, and not too warm at 21 degrees. The wind shouldn't pick up much later on either.Today's route is up and down, with the Cat. 3 Col de la Gachet (5.7 km climb at 4.5%) after 40 km being the main difficulty. There are several intermediate time checks too, at km 17, km 35, km 40.2, and km 49.7.Riders will go off in reverse GC order. The first rider off is Iker Flores (Euskaltel), who left at 10:55, followed by Wim Vansevenant (10:57) and Janek Tombak (10:59). It'll be two minute intervals until the final 20 riders, who start at three minute gaps. Lance Armstrong will leave the start ramp at 16:22.

11:10 CEST The next riders are ready to go, with Servais Knaven (Quick.Step, a handy tester against the clock), Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner), Daniel Becke (Illes Balears), and Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) all making their way off the ramp and out onto the parcours.

Preliminary results at 55.5 km for the riders who had been the last five spots in the GC:
(151) 162 FÖRSTER Robert GST GER 1:23:38
(152) 134 KNAVEN Servais QST NED 1:20:25
(153) 127 TOMBAK Janeck COF EST 1:23:08
(154) 049 VANSEVENANT Wim DVL BEL 1:21:07
(155) 194 FLORES Iker EUS ESP 1:23:35

I was starting to wonder if Mickael Rasmussen (after several bike changes and crashes) might be down with our final five, and then I realized that he would be disqualified before he lost enough time to fall that far in the rankings. It seems amazing that he only ended up 7:47 down from the leader. So we are left with the standings that will probably prevail tomorrow at the conclusion of the Tour de France:

151 162 FÖRSTER Robert GST GER 4h 01' 40"
152 034 BECKE Daniel IBA GER 4h 02' 16"
153 127 TOMBAK Janeck COF EST 4h 03' 09"
154 049 VANSEVENANT Wim DVL BEL 4h 09' 25"
155 194 FLORES Iker EUS ESP 4h 20' 24"

Servais Knaven, a former Dutch national champion time trialist, rode into 100th place in today's time trial, which bumped him up to 149th overall. A bad translation from his Dutch-language blog: "Thus, we have also had the time trial! It was a complete cumbersome ride, but I had fortunately good legs and I could drive a good tempo."

Meanwhile Daniel Becke had a horrible day and finished the Individual Time Trial with the slowest time of the day, in 155th place, plunging him down into 152nd overall. He must have had some severe problems with the course today, since in the Stage 1 time trial he finished in the top third, 64th out of 189 riders.

Unfortunately Leonardo Piepoli only finished in 115th place for the day, which dropped him out of the Top Twenty in the Tour to 23rd place overall. Still, that's a long way from the Lanterne Rouge position which he held for the first three days of the Tour!

Iker Flores finished the Individual Time Trial in 145th place, so he did beat ten riders to the finish line today (including 2004 maillot-jaune-wearer Thomas Voeckler). Barring any catastrophes on the road to Paris tomorrow, Iker Flores will go down in the history books with an 11-minute margin as the 2005 Tour de France Lanterne Rouge, just as his brother Igor did in 2002.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bad attitude boy

Last year, everybody loved little Tommy Voeckler, the French rider for Buoygues telecom, and the incredible spirit he showed in defending the yellow jersey.

This year, he sounds like a spoiled brat:
"I'm extremely disappointed. I finished sixth [in stage 18]. That amounts to nothing. There's only one winner.... For three weeks I have been giving it my all, and three times I have been in the right breakaway, but now, it's over. The Tour is finished for me. I can't try it all again tomorrow, I'm not a machine. I'll never win."

I guess we're all getting a little tired and cranky, aren't we!?

NY Times on Iker Flores

Finally we have some comments in the media from Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores in an article by Samuel Abt. They require registration on the NY Times site to read, so I'll quote the relevant part here:

"Lost in these races-within-the-race is another battle - not for glory but to avoid ignominy. It concerns Iker Flores, a 28-year-old Spaniard with the Euskaltel team, a professional since 1999, a rider in his third Tour and a man who is 4 hours 8 minutes 35 seconds behind Armstrong.

For reasons not entirely beyond his control, Flores is last in the race - the lanterne rouge, named for the red light that once hung at the back of trains. Flores is not just last but dead last, more than eight minutes behind the rider in 154th place, Wim Vansevenant, a Belgian with Davitamon.

Sometimes riders enjoy the distinction of being lanterne rouge - it can bring them enough publicity to be invited, for a fee, to post-Tour exhibition races. At other times, though, the rider in last place feels shamed, as Flores does.

He feels especially mortified, since he is carrying on a family tradition with dire consequences.

His brother Igor was lanterne rouge in the 2002 Tour and proud of it.

He worked so hard to remain last that the Euskaltel team fired him at the end of the season and he now runs a furniture store in the Spanish Basque hinterland.

"I must do something to escape from last place," Iker Flores told Spanish journalists this week.

Alas, he keeps doing the wrong things.

On Thursday, he was penalized by race officials for staying too long in the slipstream of his team car as he tried to catch up with the pack. His penalty was a fine of 50 Swiss francs and 20 more seconds tacked onto his overall elapsed time.

Today, he finished next to last, 154th, while Vansevenant was 149th, putting two minutes more between them."

Poor Iker. There is no "ignominy" in your position. Be proud to finish the Tour de France, the world's greatest cycling event. Just take a look at the names of all the riders who did not make it as far as you did. Thirty-four world-class cyclists, so far, have gone by the wayside.

We applaud you, Iker Flores.

Stage 19: More of the same

The straggler out of 155 remaining riders today was Mauro Facci, an Italian rider for Fasso Bartolo, who came in about five minutes after anyone else.

Three riders from Euskaltel-Euskadi came in immediately before him, 9:38 after the stage winner: Iker Camano, Inigo Landaluze, and our Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores.

[Update: The day's medical communique said that Landaluze had chronic pain in his left hip, and was fined for holding onto a water bottle (for propulsion) too long at the team car four times; and Camano had a pain in his right leg. Presumably Flores was doing the job he gets paid for by escorting them safely across the finish line.]

So the margin for Iker Flores in the general classification is now 8:31 behind the penultimate rider. No change in the last two days in the order of the last five riders overall.

Leonardo Piepoli remains in 20th place overall!

I haven't yet found any special mention of any of them in the online race reports. They must have stuck with the peloton for most of the day.

Can you imagine the overwhelming fatigue they must be experiencing in their 19th day of this? But even so, we had no more abandons today. Hopefully many riders had a relatively calm, "restful" day in the saddle. The individual time trial tomorrow will certainly be tough and decisive for many positions in the general classification - and then you'll be joining your team along the Champs Elysees, boys. Enjoy it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tyler, we miss you

For those of you who miss Tyler Hamilton in the Tour this year as I do, here is a nice interview with him and update on his hearing schedule.
"I haven't missed a day of training since this whole mess started ... I've been out on the bike every day since November 1st of last year."
Now THAT is true dedication.

How far we've come

It's sobering to look at the 2005 Tour de France rider roster now and see how many names are grayed out - the names of the missing.

Congratulations to the three teams (out of 21) that have ridden well and retained all their members until today:
Here's hoping you three get to Paris with your teams intact and can celebrate your finish there in style. Now granted, you may not wish to have an ostentatious 600-guest blowout on Sunday night at the Paris Ritz like one of the riders is planning....

Stage 18: Are we there yet?

No abandonments today!

Robert Forster of Gerolsteiner was the only straggler today, probably wearing himself out earlier in the stage, coming across the line last by 14 seconds.

There's no change from yesterday, though, in the last five overall placements.

Iker Flores, the Spaniard riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi, remains the Lanterne Rouge with a solid margin of 6:11.

Past Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli, Italian rider for Saunier Duval, is holding tight in twentieth position in the Tour de France. Let's hope he can hold that spot all the way to Paris.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Tour income extremes

One aspect of the Tour de France that spectators rarely consider is the income generated by the cyclists for their respective teams. From Eurosport, we hear about a Lanterne Rouge in a different sense:

"With 15 stages down (and six to go), the wealthiest team in the 2005 Tour de France is Discovery Channel, Lance Armstrong and his American armada amassing 52,330 euros in prize money.

At the bottom of the money-making pile: Italian squad Domina Vacanze, with a negligible 3,810 euros earned.

"Domina Vacanze will have to be careful they don't pick up too many penalties before the finish in Paris," said Eurosport co-commentator Sean Kelly.

"They could end up owing money back to the race.""

But Eurosport and Sean Kelly mis-identified the team in the last spot. Domina Vacanze has earned 7,970 euros. According to Velonews it is Euskaltel-Euskadi, the orange-jersied team of Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores, which has earned the least amount of all the Tour de France teams. However, in terms of placement based on time gaps, after Stage 17 Euskaltel-Euskadi ranks 14th out of 21 teams.

Every departure has a story

Not all the stories of the abandonments from the Tour make it into the mainstream media. But each one seems to be difficult for the rider in question. Davis Phinney writes of the "Pain of quitting the Tour" of riders such as South African Robbie Hunter and CSC member Jens Voigt.
"So we'll miss the riders that as always fall by the wayside through this 2005 Tour de France but they've had an impact, they've played a part and we applaud their efforts, first to last."

Stage 17: Back to the flatlands

Gotta give a guy credit for trying: Andreas Klöden turned out in a specially-designed cast today, but the pain was just too great attempting to ride and he had to retire by 22 km. I've heard no major mention of his injured teammate Matthias Kessler - he's in the peloton doing his best after their crash yesterday. Ah, yes, he finished with the grupetto of the last five riders over the finish line today.

No shakeups at the back of the rankings today. Probably, barring any major crashes, the order of these last five riders will remain close to the same in the general classification all the way through the individual time trial, Stage 20 on Saturday:

Place Number Name Team Nationality Time behind Lance
151 162 FÖRSTER Robert GST GER 3h 38' 45"
152 134 KNAVEN Servais QST NED 3h 40' 43"
153 127 TOMBAK Janeck COF EST 3h 40' 58"
154 049 VANSEVENANT Wim DVL BEL 3h 47' 14"

and our Lanterne Rouge, who finished in the 148th spot in today's stage:
155 194 FLORES Iker EUS ESP 3h 53' 23"

One never wants to say that anyone has a "lock" on any position until the Tour is officially over, but Iker Flores seems to be as solid in his position as Lance is in his own. In the first time trial of the Tour, they finished in this order: Knaven #43, Förster #74, Vansevenant #133, Flores #149, and Tombak #179 - so if they ride similarly in the final time trial, probably Knaven and Förster will have the best opportunity of these five to rise significantly in the overall standings.

Martin Dugard had this to say today about Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores:
"... Flores [seems] destined to [remain] last. As a man who has finish last in the Raid Gauloises, I can honestly tell you that the sting doesn’t last long. All I remember is that crossing the line had a life-altering effect. So I’m rooting for Flores to avoid a crash or random pedestrian encounter in the four remaining stages. I want to see him make that finish in Paris."

Phil and Paul

I adore Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (Tour commentators on OLN-TV and English-language broadcast to ~150 countries). That said, this is too funny not to pass along:

Phil and Paul Bingo

Not unlike the drinking game where you have to take a shot of liquid courage for every time they trot out the phrase "Suitcase of Courage".

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hour cycling record

If the Tour de France riders aren't incredible enough, try doing a one-hour cycling time trial and see how far you get. "Czech Ondrej Sosenka broke the world cycling hour-record, covering 49.700 kilometres at Moscow's Olympic velodrome in Krylatskoye on Tuesday."

That's a speed of 30.8 miles per hour. On average. On a bicycle. For a solid hour.

Zabriskie doing well

Dave Zabriskie, the American rider for CSC who wore the yellow jersey, but was forced to withdraw from the Tour de France several days after experiencing a dramatic crash in the Stage 4 team time trial, seems to be doing well. On his website his sense of humor is evidently still intact. He defends his team against the criticism it encountered from Bob Roll for leaving him alone in his crash:
"Just so everyone knows, Team CSC did not abandon me. In our meeting before the team time trial we agreed that the only rider we’d wait for would be Ivan since he’s our G.C. rider. I love being a part of Team CSC and since the day I joined, the team has done nothing but try to help me in any way it can."
Good luck at the World Championships, Dave!

Kloden in trouble

Andreas Klöden broke a bone in his wrist during Stage 16, and may have to withdraw from the Tour. He is a member of T-Mobile and was in 11th place in the Tour even while supporting his teammate Jan Ullrich, and was runner-up in the overall standings in the Tour last year.

With a lot of the body weight supported on the cyclist's hands, it would be exceedingly painful to ride the final stages of the Tour with a broken bone in one's wrist.

Update from and tdfblog: "T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler is also doubtful for Wednesday's Stage 17, after suffering a concussion in the crash with Klöden."

Our condolences....

Our condolences to our Australian friends on the tragic cycling death of champion Amy Gillett, and best wishes for a speedy recovery from their injuries to her training partners and teammates.

Reactions of some of the Australian Tour riders here. They wore black armbands today.

And congratulations to Australian cyclist Cadel Evans on a fantastic effort in finishing in fourth place in today's stage and launching yourself into seventh place in the general classification in the Tour de France.

Some people....

I wonder how many people around the world were secretly cheering when that Tour spectator got hit by the motorcycle a couple of days ago? One team's sports director describes hitting "five to six" crazy spectators with his car as well. Nobody wants them to get hurt, but their antics put themselves in danger and endangers the cyclists and drivers as well. Rider Andrey Kashechkin was hit in the nose and injured by a spectator today, and in Stage 7 Dutch Davitamon-Lotto rider Leon van Bon withdrew from the Tour due to an injury caused by a spectator.

I'll bet the riders wish a few of the journalists could be taken out in a similar way, too.

I have a hard time understanding some people's attitudes towards rider's standings. Consider this experience of Gerolsteiner rider Robert Förster, described in
"... some guy with his notebook in hand came after me. He wanted to ask me a few more questions. Sure, no problem. He had to write something about "the worst German," he said. Me: What?? Well, Becke is the second-worst German and I am the worst. Wasn't it "degrading" to be so far down in the rankings, and wasn't it my goal, to overtake Becke..... I tried to explain to him that I wasn't being paid to do well in the GC. For what then, he asked? That was enough for me - they also don't pay me to explain the ground rules of cycling to a journalist during the Tour. Besides, the "worst German" had to go train..."
Perhaps experiences like that, as well as the peculiar (to my mind) attitudes of Tour organizers toward the Lanterne Rouge position, explain why we haven't seen many interviews from riders further down in the standings.

Contrast that attitude with Förster's description of his superhuman efforts getting through Stage 15:
"The stage today - you can't imagine it. Until today, I couldn't imagine how much I could torture myself. When you see the results, you say, ok, he came in with the gruppetto. Only two riders dropped out. It wasn't that bad. But in reality it was hell. I had a blackout 100 km long, I can't remember anything about it."

Stage 16: Descending rapidly

I jinxed him. Magnus Backstedt, the massive Swedish sprinter on the Liquigas team who had a difficult time finishing two days ago, was a non-starter today. Backstedt described the brutal day he had trying to make the finish line of Stage 15 before the cutoff. [Update: Later it was said he had bronchitis.] Similarly, Gianluca Bortolami, an Italian rider on the Lampre - Caffita team, didn't sign in at the start of the stage. However, everyone who started today finished the stage, which leaves 156 riders (82% of stage 1 starters) still in the Tour as we leave the mountains.

The last 35 riders finishing today all arrived safely in the autobus, so there were no stragglers left in the Pyrenees. That means there were also no big shakeups in the final standings.

Although former Lanterne Rouge and mountain climber extraordinaire Leonardo Piepoli finished only 3:24 behind the stage winner in the 50-rider peloton, he didn't gain any time on the riders ahead of him in the standings and keeps his 20th position in the general classification.

Iker Flores of Euskaltel-Euskadi remains in the Lanterne Rouge position with a 6:09 margin to his next runner-up, Wim Vansevenant of Davitamon-Lotto, with Janeck Tombak of Cofidis staying in the same relative position 4:42 farther back.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Little Leonardo, former Lanterne Rouge

Some details about diminutive (52 kg/114 lb.) Leonardo Piepoli's bike, from

"Saunier Duval's Leonardo Piepoli one of the smallest men in the Tour and therefore rides a size S frame. That means his frame is lighter than most and grams also drop off because he's also using shorter cranks and stem, a narrower handlebar and so on. It's only five grams here and five grams there but it adds up. Or rather, it subtracts, and the practical upshot is that, with Campagnolo's lightweight Record carbon group on the bike, Piepoli's machine ends up well under the UCI's 6.8kg weight limit.

Since the UCI's regulations don't specify what constitutes a bike for the purposes of the weight rule, various inventive ways have been found of getting bikes to hit the target over the last couple of years. We've heard, for example, of mechanics dropping chains down the seat tubes of bikes belonging to female track cyclists to get them up to the weight. The Saunier Duval mechanics are even more blatant - Piepoli's bike has 140g of lead strips bolted on under the water bottles!"

There's a photo of those lead weights here. No wonder Leonardo dances up those mountains so incredibly well!

2005 Lanterne Rouge article

From the Sacramento Bee, by James Raia:
No shame in being the Tour's caboose

"The French sporting public likes compatriot champions. They also cheer for any countryman in the Tour de France - even if he has no chance of winning but displays perseverance....

Nothing demonstrates this more than the tradition of the lanterne rouge, or red lantern. It's the honor given to the rider who finishes last in the Tour de France overall standings.

Named after the red lantern on the caboose of a train, the lanterne rouge began in the first Tour de France in 1903.

It's never been an official designation, but the last-place cyclist receives his share of admiration.

In recent years, Tour organizers have discouraged any publicity about the red lantern because riders fervently began to abuse its original intention.

Since the second-to-last rider in the final standings wouldn't receive much for his status, back-of-the-pack riders took crafty measures to finish last. They'd hide behind buildings, coast along routes or feign injury to be last.

The last rider doesn't receive prize money for his finish, either. But in yesteryear, it was common for lanterne rouge honorees to receive sizable appearance fees to compete in post-Tour appearance criteriums, the fast-paced races on short, enclosed courses throughout Europe.

"It adds nothing," Jean Marie Leblanc, the retiring Tour de France race director said of the red lantern designation. "Today it is part of the lore of the Tour de France, but it no longer exists officially or unofficially."

Yet the lanterne rouge is still a revered Tour accomplishment.

As the race advances into the Alps and Pyrenees and across the wind-whipped countryside, riders at the bottom of the overall standings face a difficult challenge.

Should they give up and hope for a better race next time or push themselves to an extreme to remain within the varying time limits of each subsequent stage with a goal of finishing last?

In some instances, riders can still receive appearance money to ride in post-Tour criteriums.

"I had a Belgium teammate, and he was the last (rider in the Tour), but he didn't get anything," said Mario Aerts, a Belgian rider ranked in the middle of pack and a safe distance from contesting the lanterne rouge. "But maybe he would have if he were a French guy."

French rider Jimmy Casper, a veteran pro with 24 career victories, has captured the lanterne rouge twice. In the past, on the final day of the race in Paris, Casper capitalized on his status and carried a small red lantern for the purpose of seeking publicity and post-Tour business opportunities.

Some Tour de France riders would rather not hear about or discuss the lanterne rouge.

"I don't care to think about that," Italian rider Gianluca Bortolami said before a recent stage. "For the moment, there are plenty of guys behind me."

Michael Boogerd, the Dutch rider and several-time Tour stage winner, commented he has little time for such a trivial issue. He'd rather concern himself with competing against riders vying for the overall title.

Conversely, Spanish rider Iker Flores has plenty of concern. He's been the current Tour's lanterne rouge for several days.

Riding on the Euskaltel team comprised of Basque cyclists, Flores trails race leader Lance Armstrong by 2 hours, 53 minutes and 59 seconds.

With the difficult climbs of the Pyrenees continuing through Tuesday, Flores is nearly 6 1/2 minutes behind the next-to-last rider.

Whether Flores retains his lanterne rouge status, moves higher among lower-ranked riders, misses a time cut or withdraws via illness or injury, he'll receive increased fan support.

Throngs of Basque fans raucously cheer their countrymen as they meet the challenges of the Pyrenees. They're almost as passionate about the Tour de France as the French, whether their riders are in first or last place."

Too bad this article didn't include any actual interviews with Sr. Flores or his teammates. I've been unable to find any direct quotes from him.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Stage 15: The decisive mountains

David Herrero, the Spaniard riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi, has withdrawn en route today according to OLN at about 145 km into the stage, after having way too much fun in the first two Category 1 climbs. Likewise, Wilfried Cretskens, a Belgian rider for Quickstep, made it up another Category 1 but abandoned today's stage after 170 kilometers of suffer-fest.

158 riders remain in the Tour de France of the 189 starters (83%), and unless they crash out, most of them should make it to the finish in Paris next Friday after a rest day tomorrow and another hilly day on Tuesday, then three comparatively flat stages. To make it all the way to the Champs Elysees on the final day of the Tour is indeed a triumph for any cyclist.

The autobus brought in 54 slower riders today, leaving only two to come across the line 2 1/2 minutes later at the tail end of the day: Rafael Nurtidinov, an Uzbeki (is that the word?) rider for Domina Vacanze, who finished alongside the massive 198-pound sprinter Magnus Backstedt, the Swedish sprinter on the Leaky Gas team and favorite of Clydesdale athletes worldwide.

Former Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) enjoyed another outstanding trip doing the mountain-climbing in which he excels, crossing the finish line in 21st place for the day and launching himself into 20th place overall for the Tour de France. Piepoli was in the final climb today with the elite group. His comeback in the standings is as impressive a ride as anyone's in the tour - I'm surprised he hasn't gotten more international press coverage. But we're watching him! Bravo, Leonardo!

Johan van Summeren (Davitamon-Lotto) also had a good day, crossing the line in 78th place for the day, which brings him up out of the bottom of the overall placings.

Iker Flores (Euskatel-Euskadi) holds the Lanterne Rouge position for yet another day, with a margin of 7:26 below Wim Vansevant (Davitamon-Lotto), and another 3:25 gap to the next rider back, Janeck Tombak (Cofidis), the Lanterne Rouge from stages 5 and 7.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Stage 14: Into the Pyrenees

This morning was the last chance for riders to bail and avoid the excruciating Pyrenean stages. Gerben Lowik, a Dutch rider for Rabobank, in a sign of tremendous good sense, didn't sign in today. If you're not going to go all the way to the Champs Elysees, you might as well get out now while the getting is good.

The back of the peloton was fairly quiet today. The "autobus" delivered our last three riders, Wim Vansevenant (DVL), Johan Van Summeren (DVL), and the Lanterne Rouge Iker Flores (EUS) safely to the finish line before the cutoff, with no changes in relative position.

The only late arrivals at the finish line were Australian Luke Roberts, riding for CSC, and Frédéric Blessy, a Frenchman riding for Cofidis, who both arrived within one minute behind the "autobus".

Rest up tonight, boys, because you're going to need everything you have left during tomorrow's "Queen Stage"!! Four Category One climbs and then a final "beyond categorization" HC climb is in store. If you make it through that, you can rest up the following day and eventually ride into Paris and finish the Tour!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Stage 13: Back to the flatlands

Alejandro Valverde, the Spaniard riding for Illes Balears who had been in 5th place overall and leading in the young riders competition, has withdrawn due to a knee injury suffered earlier in the Tour.

Again and again, the lesson is driven home: You can't win in the Tour if you don't finish! Other than stage wins and some publicity, that is.

This flat stage is one of the last big days for the sprinters. There probably won't be too many shakeups in the overall standings, either in the front or the rear of the peloton today.

Yes, sure enough.... Valverde was today's only abandon, and most riders finished in the main peloton - all but six riders crossed the line in two huge groups.

Iker Flores retains his hold on the Lanterne Rouge spot, but his margin has been decreased to about six minutes. There were two riders that had a very late finish: Wim Vansevant and Johan Van Summeren, teammates from Davitamon-Lotto, who limped across the finish line together eleven minutes after the main peloton. That brings them down to 2nd and 3rd from last in the general classification. These Davitamon riders may have burned themselves up leading the peloton and chasing down the breakaways during the stage today, but it paid off hugely in another victory for the team when their sprinter Robbie McEwen won a third stage.

Sprinter Bradley McGee ( lost time also with a finish 5:40 after the main peloton. He has reportedly been experiencing some hamstring cramping and wants to recuperate a bit before the big mountains.

So most riders survived another fairly quiet flat stage today, giving them a brief "respite" (if one can call cycling 173.5 km/107.8 miles a "respite") before tackling the Pyrenees.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stage 12: Bastille Day

A milder stage of the Tour than yesterday, although also with lots of mountains. Bastille Day traditionally brings out all the aggression the French riders can muster to celebrate it, and today is no exception!

Today's list of roadkill:

Boonen retired with the green sprinter's jersey on his back due to a knee injured in a crash. Beltran crashed early in the stage and withdrew, leaving Lance with one less Disco boy climber to escort him through the Pyrenees.

Former Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli finished in the 135-rider peloton and stayed way up there in 27th place today. With 162 riders remaining, that's 83% of the field that finished together!

We can just copy the same paragraph from the last several days for today's Lanterne Rouge update: Iker Flores finished with the enormous peloton again today, but still remains in last place in the General Classification by about 10 minutes.

Nicholas Jalabert, a Frenchman riding for Phonak, had a lousy Bastille Day by falling off the back of the peloton and finishing the stage last by 18 minutes. He slid down the rankings to land in the penultimate spot in the General Classification, just ahead of Janeck Tombak.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Monster Stage 11: Carnage atop the Alps

Italian rider Dario Frigo (Fasso Bartolo) is out of the Tour for drugs. Authorities busted his wife for smuggling drugs in her car trunk and then hauled him out of the team's hotel in Courcheval at 8:15 AM. Frigo was also busted in 2001 for drugs during the Giro d'Italia. I guess he's a slow learner. Jean Marie LeBlanc, Tour organizer, apparently had the same opinion: "He belongs to a generation of riders who just won't learn. That generation has to leave as soon as possible to be replaced by a generation of riders who respect the rules." Frigo had been in 52nd position overall, now he's just in hot water.

The finish of today's route, from

Former Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli of Saunier Duval ROCKED another mountain stage today, coming in with the first large pack along with the Tour leaders at 1:15 back from the stage winners. He catapulted himself from last place for the first three days all the way up into 26th place overall in the Tour de France. AWESOME ride, Leonardo! Vai, Leonardo, vai!

Here's the damage that the Col de Galibier did to the members of the peloton:

Suddenly we're down to 167 riders.

Jens Voigt, former wearer of the yellow jersey in Stage 9, finished 39 seconds outside of the time limit in stage 11, which takes him out of the Tour. Oh, what a difference ~72 hours (and 39 seconds) makes! The second maillot-jaune-wearer of the CSC team to be forced to abandon! Voigt has been ill with fever for the past few days, according to CSC. "When I started in today's stage, I knew it was against all odds, but I still wanted to do everything I possibly could to continue."

As the said, "Just under 2km to the summit of the Télégraphe .... Zanini (Quick Step) abandons the race. Not surprising. I would do the same thing."

Despite another solid finish in the 96th spot today with the penultimate grupetto to cross the line, Spanish rider Iker Flores (at right; riding for Euskaltel Euskadi) maintains his position as Lanterne Rouge. Ahead of him by about 10 minutes in the general classification (though finishing about 8 minutes later today) is Janeck Tombak, Lanterne Rouge for two stages to date. Third from last is Daniel Becke, a German rider on the Illes Balears team, who also finished in the final grupetto along with Tombak.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stage 10: Entering the Alps reports: "Russian rider Evgeni Petrov (Lampre-Caffita) will not start the 10th stage of the Tour, as he was determined to have too high a hematocrit in controls carried out on Tuesday morning." He was in 45th position in the general classification.

A Lampre teammate, Austrian Gerrit Glomser, withdrew during the stage at the feeding station at 74 km. He had been in 67th position in the general classification.

That decreases the 2005 Tour de France field to 173 riders.

Tour organizers shortened the Stage 10 route by lopping off the first 11 km near Grenoble to avoid a farmers' protest against a ban on wolf hunting. Every little bit helps.

Flores Iker of Euskaltel-Euskadi retains the Lanterne Rouge position today with an 8 1/2-minute margin after finishing 169th in the stage. Closest riders to him in the general classification are 172nd place Jean-Patrick Nazon (A2R); former Lanterne Rouge Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) in 171st; and 170th place Daniel Becke (Iba).

Our former Lanterne Rouge, Leonardo Piepoli, had an incredible ride today. He hung with the front group all the way until about 10 km before the finish line, and finished in 12th spot just ahead of Jan Ullrich. That brings him up all the way to 40th place in the overall standings. Bravo, Leonardo!

There were no real stragglers among today's finishers - the last group to cross the line was a pack of fifty riders that came in 38 minutes after the stage winner, so no one was left out on the road coming in solo incurring a huge time gap today. That may change in tomorrow's huge stage.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Jimmy Casper, two-time Lanterne Rouge

Here's a wonderful historical photo of Jimmy Casper from 2001, his first time as Tour de France Lanterne Rouge. He repeated in 2004.

The story of Jimmy Casper becoming the Lanterne Rouge while riding for Cofidis in the 2004 Tour de France is here.

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What's the Tour de France all about?

Someone new to the Tour de France asked on one of my email lists what it was all about. It's not easy to understand at first glance! Here's how I responded - my Quick 'n' Dirty TdF Guide:

It's a race series that goes on for 3 weeks, comprised of daily stages of varying lengths and terrains that circumnavigates France. The riders all work together in teams. Usually the team is a combination of sprinters and mountain specialists that support an all-around guy who is hoping to win or place well in the all-around competition. The "General Classification" (GC) is the all-around prize, that Lance Armstrong won 6 times and will probably win again. The leader in the GC wears the yellow jersey. They score the GC based on how much aggregate time each rider is behind the winner, from adding up all the daily stages.

There are other competitions going on simultaneously, to keep it interesting for everyone.
  1. Daily stage winners: First across the finish line each day
  2. Mountain climbing (polka-dot jersey) based on fastest times to the summits of designated peaks along the way
  3. Sprinter (all green jersey) based on aggregate points to designated sprinting lines along the way (intermediate points in each stage and the finish line)

If the whole bunch (the "peloton") finishes a stage en masse, they award all the riders in the peloton the same time so there won't be a massive sprint of 100 bikes to the line, just for safety's sake.

Every rider is scored every day by a time behind the first finisher of the stage (stage winner). Their aggregate time for all the days to date added up determines their individual placement in the General Classification (GC = overall/yellow jersey competition).

There's some other little wrinkles - for example, on one of the stages they have a team time trial where the team goes out on a course on their own and the first 5 riders of the team all get the same score for that day when they cross the finish line - but that's an exception, only happens once per Tour de France.

The riders are each members of corporate-sponsored teams (Discovery Channel, T-mobile communications, bakeries, hearing aid companies, cement companies, you name it) and signed (usually) to multiple-year contracts to them. Yes, many riders out of the field of 180+ are there in the race solely with the job of being support guys for the contender for the yellow jersey (GC/overall). These are often called "domestiques" = servants. Some are even on the team to serve as support people for guys in contention for the sprinter's awards or mountain climbers awards. They do things like lead out the contender guy, protect him from interference, bring him water bottles, etc. This is an honorable role and many of these riders are great cyclists in their own right - and they will win other races during the year, but they are hired knowing that in the Tour de France they will serve a supporting role to the superstar all-around contender rider.

The whole team is coordinated by a manager who usually rides in a car at the back of the peloton all day and screams instructions to all the riders on his own team through radio earpieces they all wear.

On most long (100+ mile) daily stages most of the riders stay together in a group (=peloton) because it's MUCH easier and saves MUCH energy (30%+) to ride in someone's slipstream. But sometimes one or a small group of riders will break away and dash out in front, hoping to gain a stage win or extra points for sprinting. If they are not riders in contention for the overall award (a couple of domestiques out for some publicity for the team that day) the guys like Lance will let them go, because they are not really his competitors and are no threat to him. However, Lance and his team would NEVER let an actual contender get away from the peloton and get ahead, because he could then become a threat. So Lance and his team usually ride up in near the front of the peloton most days to keep an eye on the breakaways, to chase down any that might be a threat to him, and also to stay out of trouble if anyone crashes.

The ticker on the TV (min:sec) that you see shows an estimate of how many minutes ahead of the peloton a breakaway group is located. There's also a guy that rides on a motorcycle with a chalkboard ("Chalkboard man") with the time gap estimate and shows it to the riders too as they go along. Most of the time the guys riding in the front of the peloton will chase down and swallow up these little breakaway groups before they get to the finish line, but not always.

As the greatest bike race in the world, it's followed so closely by millions of fans in Europe and all around the world that "merely" coming across the finish line first and winning a stage on a single day gains a rider much fame and fortune, so every day is hotly contested.

I hope that clears things up a little instead of confusing it more!! Readers, feel free to add any other salient points in the Comments!

Oh yeah, one thing I should add: The Lanterne Rouge (main subject of this blog) is the traditional term for the last-placed rider in the overall standings - the red light on the caboose of the great Tour de France train.

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Monday rest day

Today the Tour de France riders are flying south to Grenoble, resting, getting their massages and chiropractic treatments, recuperating (yes, they call another couple hours on the bike "recuperating"), and getting their game faces on for tackling the Alps on Tuesday. I'll be checking around the web for updates of some of the guys that we've been following, but otherwise won't have much new for you until tomorrow.

This is what the boys in the Tour have to look forward to during their three day Alpine bicycling vacation:


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stage 9: Mountain fever epidemic

American Dave Zabriskie, riding for CSC, dropped out of the Tour de France today at about the 10 km point in Stage 9. He was visibly exhausted and demoralized. He said he had an "overall extremely bad feeling in my whole body" and called his withdrawal "a bad moment in my life". He said of his dizzying descent from leader of the Tour to withdrawal from the race, "I was way up here and way down there - it's a crazy sport".

Commentator Bob Roll criticized the CSC team for leaving Dave alone on the side of the road bleeding after his crash near the finish line of the team time trial, and indicated that the experience must have contributed to his poor performance the last few days.

Dave hopes to recover sufficiently to go on to the world cycling championships in a few weeks. Bravo, Dave, good luck and thanks for giving us spectators such a great ride on your first Tour de France! As his teammate Jens Voigt said, "Whatever happens, he's still my hero. He gave the team a great start with the stage win and the yellow jersey. He beat Lance Armstrong and that doesn't happen very often."

Also withdrawing today from the Tour de France: Jose Angel Gomez Marchante, a Spaniard riding for Saunier Duval who broke his collarbone in an accident in the feed zone; Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, a Spaniard riding for Liberty Seguros who crashed at the 4 km mark going at a speed of about 30 mph, but fortunately suffered only severe bruising. [Update, July 23: Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano has been diagnosed with a broken coccyx (tailbone), 12 days after he pulled out of the Tour de France. The rider underwent a new MRI scan this week due to the persistent backaches he has suffered since his bad crash on stage nine of the race. The Liberty Seguros rider must take a break and allow the injury to heal, with rest the only treatment for the fracture. Manolo Saiz will wait for him to recover before designing his program for the rest of the season. In theory, the Vuelta a España is a big objective, providing he can get into condition for the race. ]

Also abandoning were two riders who experienced trouble starting on the Category 2 climbs yesterday: Jaan Kirsipuu, an Estonian sprinter on the Credit Agricole team (who routinely withdraws from the Tour in the mountains) who was dropped by the peloton at 5km; and Luciano Pagliarini, a Brazilian on the Liquidgas team (a sprinter and teammate of Magnus Backstedt).

That leaves 175 riders still in the peloton as the race heads into the Alps after a rest day tomorrow.

Iker Flores maintains his position as Lanterne Rouge, last in the General Classification, with an aggregate time of 1:12:25 behind the maillot jaune. He had a solid finish in 101st position for the stage today, however. From the Euskaltel-Euskadi team site after Stage 6 on July 7, a really bad translation from the Spanish: "The equipment this good. Iker Flores this a little sore due to the fall that underwent the other day, but good, is logical. Of to the Alps one recovers here safe. By the others, all we were well, with the high moral. If it were not thus, equal already we would have gone away. We have margin and we aspired to make pretty things in this Tour."

The only rider to finish significantly behind the major groups in Stage 9 was #34 Daniel Becke, a German sprinter on the Illes Balears team, who crossed the finish line last by himself about 5 minutes in arrears. Becke was 4th in the 1st stage of the Vuelta a Alemania last year.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Geek alert: Geography of the Tour stages

Google Earth is WAY WAY WAY COOL.

I haven't figured out how to do everything on it yet, but you can download and "play" the satellite-imaged geography of the Tour de France stage routes.

And thanks to Rob in Madison for this tip:
There's more of that found here:

Search the "file downloads" for upcoming stages. For example, Stage 8:


Nice blog, Alex!

While I'm definitely not a fan of commentator Al Trautwig (I'm QUITE happy that OLN decided to go with simple commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen - they're the BEST), Al's 14-year-old son Alex is doing a great job on presenting some of the local color of the Tour on his blog.


Stage 8: They made it!

The former maillot jaune wearer, # 29 Dave Zabriskie of the USA riding for CSC, finally arrived at the finish line last in Stage 8 after a difficult ride, 51:12 after the stage winner. He was within one minute of being eliminated. That moves him from first overall at the start of the Tour all the way down to the penultimate position, 179th place in the General Classification. He must still be experiencing the aftermath of his dramatic fall during the team time trial. He described his symptoms: "It's stiff. It's a little hard to breathe, my knee is painful.... That's what happens when you fall off."

Martin Dugard described Dave's day in Stage 8: "David Zabriskie, who was experiencing the ultimate cycling high by winning the yellow jersey a week ago, had a wretched day today. He finished so far behind the field that Lance Armstrong had already changed out of his cycling shoes, answered preliminary interview questions, and completed the length[y] podium ceremony. Zabriskie looked scared before the start today, as if he would rather be anywhere else in the world than here. A few more finishes like today, and he may be."

Other finishers in the back of the pack in Stage 8, perhaps experiencing some difficulties on the climbs today, were Jean-Patrick Nazon (A2R); Jaan Kirsipuu (CA); and Luciano Pagliarini (LIQ).

Returning to the Lanterne Rouge position, in last place overall in the General Classification, #194 Iker Flores of Spain riding for Eukaltel Euskadi. He crossed the Stage 8 finish line at 46:05 after the stage winner. It was reported before Stage 4 that he has some hip and knee injuries. Flores was off the front of the peloton for a while about 5 km into the stage in pursuit of the two breakaway riders, but was caught again within 3 or 4 km.

Former Lanterne Rouge #127 Janeck Tombak of Estonia, riding for Cofidis, despite being a sprinter showed some ability in the mountains and made up time, crossing the finish line in 142nd place for the stage, 17:41 after the stage winner.

Even better, our first Lanterne Rouge #87 Leonardo Piepoli of the Saunier Duval team had an outstanding day in the hills, showing off his climbing skills by finishing in the first pack (along with his American teammate Christopher Horner, Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, et al.) only 27 seconds behind the stage winners.

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More abandons reports that Christophe Mengin, the brave Stage 6 breakaway rider from Française des Jeux, has decided to withdraw from the Tour prior to Stage 8. He was close to a solo stage win at that time but fell and fractured a bone near his left eye, and his eye subsequently swelled shut.

Procyclingnews reports on three more dropouts: "Ukraine’s Serhiy Honchar also abandoned, leaving the Domina Vacanze team without their leader. Ag2r’s Sylvain Calzati, victim of a series of crashes most notably on a set of damp railway tracks that crossed the course late in stage seven, was the first rider to abandon Saturday’s stage. Soon after, Illes Balears’ Isaac Galvez, who crashed in the finishing straight yesterday, also abandoned."

It was also announced that the Dutch Davitamon-Lotto rider Leon van Bon gave up due to an injury caused by a spectator in Friday's stage 7.

These losses leave a total of 180 cyclists remaining in the 2005 Tour de France peloton.

It does indeed seem that the dreaded Mountain Fever has struck down several riders already in the Tour!

At 172 km David Zabriskie was 28 minutes behind the peloton. Even if he finishes Stage 8, with that long of a time gap he may be eliminated by the judges.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

A league of their own

One of the TV screen shots of the riders' heart rates today impressed me. Patrice Halgand, a French mid-pack rider on the Credit Agricole team, was breezing along at 50 km/hr (31 mph) with a heart rate of 113 beats/min.

Yes, I know, he has the advantages of the draft of the peloton, a top-quality bicycle, and possibly a tailwind on a downhill. But he's still maintaining a velocity that most of us would see only on a screaming white-knuckle downhill, while his heart rate is at a level most of us experience while simply brushing our teeth.

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Stage 7: Tombak regains LR position

13:18 CEST 56km/172km to go: That cute Steve Zampieri (Phonak), yesterday's Lanterne Rouge, has become the third rider to abandon the Tour, after his miserable day yesterday. According to the Phonak Cycling website he was "suffering from exhaustion". reported that he was suffering the effects of an earlier crash. However, Zampieri had trouble hanging on as early as the Stage 4 Team Time Trial when he was dropped by his team and got to the finish line 1:44 after them.

Also withdrawing today from the Tour de France: rider Allesandro Spezialetti, a 30-year-old Italian cyclist on the Lampre - Caffita team. That's him, sporting those classy Saeco mudflap girls on his cap. tells a sad story: "The Lampre rider Alessandro Spezialetti ... was rushed to hospital in Epinal after falling at the 25km mark. Spezialetti broke one tooth and sustained deep wounds to both upper and lower lips. Needless to say, the Italian was forced to abandon what was his first Tour de France. " tells the story differently: "Alessandro Spezialetti (Lampre) crashed after 50 km of racing. Tour de France doctor Gérard Porte immediately told team director Giuseppe Martinelli to take Spezialetti to hospital because the wound he had on his lip looked to be serious. Spezialetti had to abandon the race but, in the hospital of Epinal, he did not need stitches. He came back to the team hotel in the evening with doctor Marco Pallini and will be back in Italy tomorrow."

That leaves 185 of the 189 original starters left in the 2005 Tour.

When riders drop out without being involved in a big crash, one always suspects a cold, flu, or stomach bug. On top of the daily physical exertion they endure, and cumulative fatigue of riding hard every day, the riders are all under a lot of psychic stress from being in the eyes of the world all day, every day of the Tour, and surrounded by huge crowds of people every waking moment.

However, tomorrow in the mountains we may start seeing our first few devastating cases of "Mountain Fever", which seems to selectively affect the sprinters in the peloton. The Category 2 climbs for tomorrow aren't yet severe enough to take a catastrophic toll on the sprinters, though. The peloton may have an epidemic once it reaches the Alps.

The ongoing process of attrition has brought #127 Janeck Tombak back into the position of Lanterne Rouge today, the Estonian rider on the Cofidis team. Tombak is still paying the price for that overshot turn in the final stretch of Stage Five! Despite finishing in the middle of the peloton today, he is 4:33 below the nearest rider (#107 Sébastien Joly of Credit Agricole) in the General Classification.

Two riders today lost a fair chunk of time from arriving behind the peloton: Illes Balears teammates #36 Vicente Garcia Acosta and #32 Jose Luis Arrieta, both finishing 5:22 behind the stage winner. They were off the back with about 20km to go, after assisting their team leader #31 Francisco Mancebo and getting him back into the peloton after some trouble.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Stage 6: Swiss Lanterne

Today our new Lanterne Rouge is rider #69, the charming Steve Zampieri, a Swiss rider for Phonak. He is down 11:08 from our previous LR, Janeck Tombak of Cofidis. No details yet, but the large margin suggests a big problem out on the road.

Here's a bad Babelfish translation of the Phonak team site info (in German) on his delay: "Directeur Sportif Jacques Michaud accompanied the fatigued Steve Zampieri in the fight against the control conclusion on the last 60 kilometers."

Poor guy! Sounds like a really sucky day - especially having to maintain a speed of ~29 mph for 123 miles in the rain, 37 miles of that without a peloton to draft behind, and finishing 26:23 behind the stage winner after all the jerseys have been awarded.

Zampieri is a 28-year-old mountain specialist, taking 4th last year in the Tour de Romandie Mountain Time Trial and 10th overall; and 30th overall in this year's Giro d'Italia.

Hang on Steve, 2 days until the mountains!

Another late finisher was Sébastien Joly of Credit Agricole, who arrived by himself 12:54 after the stage winner.

Let's hope they bounce back quickly from a rough day.

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I've just heard that the Tour has had a second rider abandon: Claudio Corioni of Fasso Bartolo, during today's stage, with about 80 km left to go. Claudio is a young rider (age 22) who won the second stage of the Setmana Catalana this year and wore the leaders jersey. No other details yet available. (Thanks for the heads-up, Mark!)

Discussion of Constantino Zaballa's knee injury which previously caused him to quit the Tour is on

Riding in the rain today, it looks nasty! But at the end of the day, they'll be in MY TOWN, Nancy! ;-)

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Here's a salute to a great blog which inspired me: DFL - Celebrating last-place finishes at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Because they're there, and you're not. I have learned that this blog will be re-activated for the 2006 Winter Olympics - that's good news for those of us who cheer for ALL the athletes!

Here's a tabular summary of worst Olympic finishes over many years. Compare your own times and you may be encouraged! Thanks for the link, Bari!

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Stage 5: Estonian Lanterne

TombakIker Flores has relinquished his position as Lanterne Rouge today to rider #127 Janeck (or Janek) Tombak, the blonde Estonian rider on the Cofidis team - due to that little crash not far from the finish line, which caused him to have to replace his bike's chain on international television and pedal in alone. It must have been outside the 3-km mark, since his final stage time was longer than the peleton. He holds Lanterne Rouge position by a 43-second margin.

The Daily Peleton said of him earlier, "Former Estonian champion Janek Tombak will also be helping “Stuey” [sprinter Stuart O'Grady] while still concentrating on his own race. A competent sprinter, the Tour de Picardie winner had several sprint top tens last year, and will be looking for the same kind of finishes this time round, though he is still capable of infiltrating a breakaway. However, with his speed, he is a good leadout man and will have no qualms about helping his Australian captain in the final kilometre."

Unfortunately today also saw the first rider abandon the 2005 Tour, Constantino Zaballa, a Spaniard riding for Saunier Duval, a teammate of our first Lanterne Rouge Leonardo Piepoli. We previously mentioned that Zaballa lost time in Stage 3. says Zaballa "attempted a final attack in the second kilometers of Wednesday's stage, but was soon caught by the pack, after which he called it a day. The abandonment comes as a surprise, as Zaballa was one of Saunier Duval's most influential riders this season, with a third place in the final classification of Paris-Nice as most notable result."

Later update: reports that Zaballa had a knee injury in the team time trial, and was suffering throughout the previous night.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Lanterne Rouge 2002

This story by Rupert Guinness clearly describes the stress experienced by Christophe Oriol while he held the title in the 2002 Tour.

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Lanterne Rouge 2003

From VeloNews in 2003, by Rupert Guinness:

"It wasn't only in the top overall placings of the Tour de France that important changes came about in Saturday's first Pyrenean stage. If you cast your finger down to the end of the right column of the second page of the results sheet - or dragged your cursor to the last place - you'd notice a change that will have gone largely unnoticed.

For the first time since stage 9, Belgian rider Hans De Clercq (Lotto-Domo) is no longer the Tour's lanterne rouge - officially, the last placed rider on overall standings.

De Clercq will most probably have taken his move up from last place to 161st at 2 hours 59 minutes and 23 seconds from 162 survivors as a moral victory. Despite what mythology Tour history placed in being the lanterne rouge, De Clercq was openly dismissive of playing out the role as last placed rider.

"When I was riding in the Alps I felt ashamed every day," he said before passing Italian Raffaele Ferrara (Alessio) who is at 3 hours 4 minutes and 8 seconds to Armstrong.

There is still a long way to go before De Clercq can feel confident in reaching Paris, let alone getting there at least one place up the ladder from last position overall. Being so close, De Clercq realizes too that his destiny is not only his to determine. One bad day for Ferrara - via an elimination or abandon - would put him back into last place.

Come to think of it, so could any desperate measures by Ferrara to remain in the race should he be feeling poorly and take excessive pushes or tows in the climbs.

It is done, as the daily "Decision du College des Commissaires" sheet proves. Today, 10 riders were fined or handed time penalties for such illegalities. Only Friday, Euskaltel teammates David Etxebarria and Unai Etxebarria (not related) were handed so many time penalties, their adjusted times for the time trial stage eliminated them from the Tour!

There is every reason to expect more failure to starts, abandons or eliminations in the next few days. With three Pyrenean stages to go, riders will be stretched to their limits, especially in the searing heat wave that has baked France this summer. While 38 riders have pulled out from the Tour, it is worth remembering that in the Alps alone the race lost 33 of them!

The Pyrénées, from the first of four days of racing there, have so far claimed three riders. Italian Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) did not start today; while fellow Italian Danilo Di Luca (Saeco) and German Torsten Schmidt (Gerolsteiner) both abandoned during the stage.

No, De Clercq's job and mission is not yet over. Far from it. But given his sense of "shame" for placing last and his will to finish, you can't help but feel he will triumph.

De Clercq's attitude to the lanterne rouge will be welcomed by Tour organizers who were once upon a time angered by all the publicity that the last man received that it made a mockery of the race.

But they can't rub out history already written about the lanterne rouge, the first being Arsène Millocheau who finished 64 hours and 47 minutes behind winner Maurice Garin in 1903. In time, the lanterne rouge became a star of the Tour. Claiming the title guaranteed lucrative appearance fees at post-Tour criteriums.

Only three riders have twice placed last overall in the Tour. They are Daniel Masson (1922, 1923), Gerhard Schoenebacher (1979, 1980) and Mathieu Hermans (1987, 1989).

It was the Austrian Schoenebacher who unintentionally encouraged the Tour organization to break down the sense of achievement in being the last-placed rider. So annoyed was the then race director Félix Lévitan with Schoenebacher's fight to "win" it - and all the still-existing trappings - he even changed the rule midway in the 1980 Tour.

As Schoenebacher recalls, midway into the race, Lévitan brought in a new rule that declared that the last-placed rider overall each day would be eliminated.

"Félix Lévitan became very mad. I got daily interviews. I was very popular with the crowd and I continued to tell everyone that I liked being last," he said.

"Lévitan said I made mockery of the Tour. But after (placing last) I could start in almost every criterium in Holland for 300 euros each night. It was quite a lot of money for me."

Schoenebacher was quick to react when Lévitan changed the rule in 1980. "I managed to stay just in second last place every day (until the last)," he said.

But then, not every lanterne rouge contender has agreed with Schoenebacher in the past. Australian Don Allan who rode the 1974 and 1975 Tours was dead against it, even though he played along with the attention at the time he was last, saying things like: "You have to have a first and last rider. I'll never be the first, so I might as well be the last."

Later, upon reflection, Allan poured water on his enthusiasm, saying: "Everyone said: ‘It's great you'll get a lot of publicity for it.' The team said: "It's great, you'll get money." But I hated it. I didn't enter races to finish last."

Neither did Hans De Clercq."

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