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Lanterne Rouge The Last Manin the Tour de France By Max Leonard

Release date: 01st May, 2014
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: Ł16.99
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BBC football pundit Alan Hansen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his frequent espousal of what professional sport is all about: “first is first and second is nowhere,” drummed into him during his days at Anfield, offers viewers an insight into the serial winners’ mindset.

It might be interesting to learn what Hansen thinks of Max Leonard’s well-balanced argument, made with reference to the Tour de France, that the lanterne rouge, the title given to the man finishing last in the race’s general classification, is not a loser at all.

“Some,” says Leonard, “see the lanterne rouge as a joke…others as a survivor’s badge of honour awarded to a man nobly struggling against the odds.” The author is squarely positioned in the latter camp.

After abandoning one stage of the Tour himself (each year amateurs are given the opportunity to ride a stage of the world’s greatest cycling race) following a prolonged encounter with appalling weather conditions, Leonard decided to write his extremely well-researched book. He had grown tired of listening to the platitudes poured out by media-savvy winners who talk about “focus, toughness and achieving one’s dream” and decided to turn his attention to those guys who bring up the rear.

What, he asks the reader, keeps men going in the certain knowledge that they’re about to be the recipient of a symbolic lanterne rouge, handed to the man at the back of the Tour’s peleton? The description originated on French railways for the red lantern is one that used to hang from the rear of a train.

Leonard argues that assuming a rider completes the Tour after enduring physical and psychological agony, is it right that he is branded a loser? It’s a strong argument and he offers numerous examples of riders who were just as courageous as the eventual Tour winner yet they were afforded little in the way of kudos.

It was undoubtedly easier to make a case for describing the lanterne rouge as a noble battler in the days before widespread sponsorship, luxury coaches, team masseurs and energy drinks that accompany the Tour nowadays. However, Leonard’s argument is a worthy and an occasionally amusing one which makes us examine how we define the difference between winning and losing. The gap is not that wide.


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