With the days dwindling I'm reviewing my contenders, the wannabees and the likely winner. Oh ya, mainstream go ahead and pick the maillot jaune winner - let's see, there is Contador - and there is... um? Contador. Wow, that was simple. If his pistolly avoids backfiring and the pollen count stays low while they pass through the sunflower fields, it should be a multi-minute mutilation of the GC, he is after all the best pair of Sidis pedaling in the Grand Boucle. No, what I'm focusing on is that faint red glow illuminating the tail of the peloton. That eternal flame that draws the broomwagon ever closer. Try picking that rider and you will enshrine yourself in the Prognosticator's Hall of Fame.
Lanterne Rouge Picks 2010
It's a new game this year, I started it a few months ago, it carries extra meaning. Until I had to place myself on 'personal disabled list' I was planning on being at the Tour, covering it from the back of the bus, the broomwagon. (Next year.) So having a hint of who might be hanging on for dear life would help me target interviews and lock in the 2010 Lanterne Rouge.
Unfortunately everybody's favorite, Mr. "I'll eat my handlebars" Kenny Van Hummel and his Skil-Shimano Team were not selected by the committee. Truly a shame. I was looking forward to hanging with Kenny. Kenny would have once again inspired us all. Van Hummel though will go down as one of the most endearingly likable cyclists in this or any year’s race. In his first Tour de France, he often survived stages heroically, "by the skin of his teeth and riding hundreds of kilometres on his own."
But the peloton rolls on and the gruppetto of likely contenders based on the past couple of July's (marking 2007 with a huge asterisk as nearly a third of the peloton finished within that half hour of the little lantern) looks like this:
- Leading candidate is always a returning winner. Last year's Lanterne Rouge Yauheni Hutarovich finished 156 at 4h 16'27" - but history proves with so few Rouge repeats winning also teaches you how not to win.
- Bernhard Eisel has to be one of the strongest contenders in years. He was there in 2007, and after finishing first runner up to the greatest Lanterne Rouge winner of all time - Wim Vansevenant in 2008, just under a minute back, Bernhard followed that up with a respectable 6th back, only 29 minutes off the pace in 2009. After leading out the Manx Missile for a week his legs should be spent.
- Niki Terpstra of Milram continues to impress with his tenacity and persistance as well as his consistency off the back. In 2009 he was 28 mins off last and 22 mins in 2008. In 2009 Terpstra showed true Lanterne Rouge potential by winning the 3rd stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and taking the yellow leader's jersey; a true anti-grimpeur.
- An outside contender, and perhaps America's first Lanterne Rouge could be Tyler Farrar. At 3h 48'13" the Garmin speedster was five places out of last in 2009; although competing in all three grand tours last year could give him the savvy to stay one wheel ahead of the Lanterne.
- Finally, with the triplets of death, Stages 14, 15, 16 hovering over the third week we could have a repeat of 2007 when 34 riders huddled a half hour around the warm glow of the red lamp. There were big names in that group, many still around, like Boonen, Weening, Hushovd, Steegmans, Hunter, Haussler. Many of these guys were within seconds of rouge after nearly 86 hours of pedaling.
Jay Sweet, like Van Hummel**, would eventually succumb, turning over the lantern to eventual winner Jacky Durand on Stage 15. This from Jay Sweet's online diary in 1999, Stage 9, for CyclingNews.com:
"What a scarring day! The weather was shabby, raining, cold and a head wind! I got over the first two climbs okay, the bunch took it quite easy which was a relief. The Col du Telegraph (12 kms at 7.1%) was hard. I was the first one dropped, I just climbed it at my own pace. I caught the groupetto over the top on the descent. We then started to climb the Col du Galibier (18 kms at 7%). I lasted about 3 kms with the groupetto before I went hunger flat. My arms didn't want to hold up my body, I had no power whatsoever. I absolut[e]ly crawled to the top of the Galibier which seemed to take forever. When I got to the top I stopped to put on my rain jacket because it was freezing and my director said that I was as white as a ghost and my eyes were half open. He didn't really want me to descend the Galibier but I said I wanted to go on. With 70 kms to go and two more Col's I kept going. When I got to the bottom of the descent it was hailing on me but I kept going! On the Col de Montgenevre (10.5 kms at 5%) it was absolut[e]ly pouring rain but I kept going and at the bottom of the last Col (11.2 kms at 6%). I asked my director how much time I had left for the time cut and he said "You have to go as fast as you can!". I already had been for the last 110 kms but I had to finish. As I climbed as fast as I could it kept raining on me. I got to the last kilometer and sprinted or tried to anyway just to make time cut! I was out by 3 minutes. I didn't make the time cut! After everything I'd been through today and I was eliminated. I guess the officials felt real sorry for me or respected my courage because they are allowing me to start again tomorrow. I don't know if that's good or not yet, I'm too tired to think about tomorrow yet."
Inspiring is 2010's opportunity to see the Lanterne Rouge sail to the western side of the Atlantic or even south to the Land Down Under. It is certain that more Americans, Canadians and Aussies will take the start in Amsterdam than in any other year - and most of those will be rouleurs and fastmen, several Tour newbies, who will be frying their legs in the first week in search of individual stage glory or there after in service of their GC captains. Needless to say, lumpy Stage 8, Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz, will be the first day we see the brightening of the red lamp. But broomwagon hang on, come stages 14, 15 and 16 you should have a full load, and we should have a radiant Lanterne Rouge by the summit finish on Col du Tourmalet. As Contador recently said, "The Pyrenees will decide and, of course, this Tour will be harder than last year’s." Lanterne Rouge contenders, wannabees and winner - bon chance, bon courage!
** just a footnote - Sweet and Van Hummel share some interesting Tour coincidences, both road for second-tier Pro Continental teams, and each were the final wild card team selected, and each was the final selection for their respective teams, thus each was wearing the #199, the last number in the Tour... an omen? Strange Tour history has a way of resurfacing from time to time - in this case a decade apart, 1999 and 2009. Neither rider returned to the Tour.