Book Review: Lanterne Rouge, The Last Man in the Tour de France

Looking back, it has been quite a while since I have done a book review on a cycling.  Part of it is because I have had other books (mostly Science Fiction) that have taken a chunk of my reading time.  Part is also I have subscribed to Scientific America and there is only so much reading time available in a day, plus reading while pedaling is NOT recommended.

This one also took a while to get through….

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First off confession time. Ever since Lance Armstrong stopped riding in the Tour I stopped watching and paying close attention.

Editors Note: Yep I know he lied, and yep I know he did the drug enhancements that he claimed he didn’t.  And yes that is cheating. However, he ending up winning how many times over a herd of other riders many (if not most from what I’ve read) were cheating the same way.  Many who have met him, including a good friend, say he is an Ass in person, but the man can ride…

One morning, though, while lying in bed, I was listening to NPR and heard about this book. It is about the Tour, which I normally will not read, but this had a cool twist.  It is about the last rider to cross the finish line in any given year.  This rider is referred to as the Lanterne Rogue (Red Lantern) reminiscent of the red lantern that used to hang from the caboose, indicating the end of the train.

In fact, there was a time, the Lanterne Rogue  was given a red lantern as he crossed the finish line.

What intrigued me about the book, and encouraged me to buy it, was this thought from the author: The last person in the Tour rides the same route as the winner, but combined rides a whole lot longer each and every day. Being a slow rider myself, this rang true for me.  When I did the Seattle to Portland in one day, some people were done, ate dinner and had driven all the way back in Seattle when I finally crossed the finish line.  It almost seems like those in the rear need more stamina and intestinal fortitude than the faster riders. Almost hell, we do!

Add to it, for a while there was actually some fame and fortune for the last rider.  So much so, that at times there was active competition and even skullduggery (hiding behind hay bales, faking injuries and mechanical issues) in an effort to be last.  To thwart this, as it went against the ‘spirit’ of the Tour (per the organizers) the riders would be disqualified  if he was deemed to be trying to be last, so they had to act like they were trying to win while trying to lose.

Have you ever gone to a movie that you’ve heard was funnier than hell, and were all excited to see it and laugh. What happens? You leave wondering why you spent money on it….

Yep, kinda of the same here.

Yes there were some fun stories of the old timers scheming against each other. And some cool pictures from that time. After that, though, it became pretty mundane.  So and so started strong, so and so had an issue, so and so found themselves near the bottom of the pack. YAWN…  One of the reasons this book took so long (and its only 250 pages long) is I honestly got bored.

BUT, a lesson I learned in the book did apply to me and some of my rides. Lanterne Rogue’s keep trying, keep pedaling, perceiving, and enduring the pain because it IS the Tour de France.  Few people qualify to ride in this ride. Fewer still complete it at all. One does not just quit the Tour, it has to chew you up and spit you out.

My long endurance rides, one day STP, Crater Lake and RAMROD to name a few I have had this same thought.  All these rides limit the amount of riders (OK STP is 10000/year but it does sell out!) and there are many who don’t finish.  I have considered quitting many a ride, but each time have gutted it out. If the legs are still moving, I am still riding! I’d never qualify for the Tour, but I understand the thinking of those in the last place, and I always finish!

It was in honor of these folks, that I plodded on and finished the book  last night. If you are a Tour de France fan, avid follower and bike racing aficionado, I think you’d really like this book. And even though I can relate more to some of the riders, I honestly just did not.  I gave it 2 stars.

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4 Responses to Book Review: Lanterne Rouge, The Last Man in the Tour de France

  1. Your spelling choices are the most humorous part of this book review! You turned the Lanterne Rouge (red lantern) into Lanterne Rogue (lantern rascal) which is funnier and more entertaining than the correct spelling. Good job! And you may consider yourself The Rogue from now on, in all of your distance rides.

  2. I didn’t notice, but love the irony.

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