Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Rare Rouge-Race Double

Mathieu Hermans & Pietro Tarchini

With so many sprinters banged up so early in this year's Tour, many of whom have previously dangled off the back in the mountains and flirted with the coveted Lanterne Rouge, I thought it would be interesting to imagine them actually winning a stage, or two, and picking up the little lantern in Paris. And then it dawned on me, that might be one of the rarer Tour feats.

A handful have won Tour stages and in separate years basked in the reddish glow of the Lanterne Rouge, those include Roldolfo Massi, Jacky Durand, Rob Harmeling, Willy Derboven, Joseph Groussard and in 1983, Gilbert Glaus won the stage every sprinter dreams of, and in dream-like fashion. On the final stage of the 1983 Tour de France Glaus lunges his bike at the line on the paves of the Champs-Elysee to take Sean Kelly by half a wheel. A year later in the 1984 Tour de France he again finished on the Champs, but this time collected the prize of Lanterne Rouge.

After a bit of digging I found the feat is not only rare, but the odds are definitely stacked against you. Out of nearly 6,000 who have started the Tour since 1903 only two cyclists have managed to score a stage victory in the same year as winning the Lanterne Rouge.

That rarest of feats came first in 1947, on the launch of the “modern era” of Tour cycling. Possibly predicted, it came late in the game, on Stage 18, Les Sables to Vannes, 236 kms of perfect flat escape country leading north to Paris from the punishing Cols of the Pyrenees. The Italian Pietro Tarchini won out of a break-away sprint of 13 riders, who had been given their chance while maillot jaune
Jean Robic and the main GC contenders rolled in 8 minutes and 16 seconds later.

It would be 22 years before the next, and last, time a rider would accomplished the double, and again it was post-Pyrenees. This time from a double-doubler Mathieu Hermans, a Dutchman, and one of the rare two-time winners of the Lanterne Rouge, in 1987 and 1989. He won a single stage in 1989, a galloping sprint finish on Étape 11, as the peloton swooped down out of the Pyrenean resort town of Luchon to the outskirts of Toulouse in Blagnac.

So this year the historical gap, about 20 years, is there, and we have the right riders - Tyler Farrar, Andreas Klier, Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel, all have the kinda speed, character and autobus experience to make history.

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