SAINT-GERVAIS, France (VN) — Sam Bennett’s Tour de France will end Sunday with at least one prize, the one for finishing last in the race overall — what the locals call the lanterne rouge, or red lantern.
The Irishman of team Bora – Argon 18, who was in 177th place at 16 minutes behind his closest competitor Lars Bak of Lotto – Soudal, only needs to survive to Paris to make the special claim. Not that he really wants the recognition.
“At the beginning I was a little disappointed that I was forced into the lantern rouge for a second year, normally if I was a few places up and decided to be there, I’d be happier,” Bennett said.
“I’ve put in a good fight to stay in the race, so I guess I’m happy to be here. I just have to have a sense of humor about it.”
Bennett spent time Friday morning powering away on his turbo trainer to be ready to survive the remaining two mountain stages so that he can make it to Paris, where he hopes to have a chance to sprint.
At last year’s Tour, he was last overall but abandoned due to exhaustion in stage 17. This year, a crash in the final kilometer of stage 1 in Normandy resulted in a fractured finger and time loss. At the start Friday morning in the Savoy valley, he had an accumulated time of 82 hours, 11:59 minutes — 4:16:06 behind Sky’s Chris Froome.
“The first week was the hardest, I really had to suffer then,” Bennett said. “The second week was a bit easier, just my head was keeping me from getting up in a bunch sprinting, then it came a lot easier two days ago. In that mountain stage [to Finhaut-Emosson], I was a lot better.
“I have never raced this long before. I don’t know if I’ll be good one day or bad one day. If I have the legs that I had two days ago, I’ll be happy.”
In 1979, the competition for the last-placed rider heated up so much that it became a problem. Frenchman Philippe Tesnière, who won the lantern rouge in 1978 and pulled in money from post-race criteriums, tried to win again by going slowly in a time trial, but missed the time cut. The organizer, upset, created a rule to eliminate the last rider after stages 14 to 20.
Belgian Wim Vansevenant holds the record with three lantern rouges in a row. After winning his third in 2008, he said, “This will keep me in the record books well after my career ends.”
It will not be easy. Bennett’s teammate and roommate Shane Archbold, known for his mullet haircut, abandoned with a broken hip two days ago. If Bennett survives, he will be the first rider from Ireland to claim the lanterne rouge — named for the red lantern that used to be hung at the back of trains.
The organizers will award him neither a lantern nor money, but Bennett will receive some recognition from his peers. Whether he likes it or not, he is the symbol of suffering in the world’s toughest stage race.
“At home, people just see you as coming last. I know it’s different here for the French, there’s a lot of history behind it,” Bennett said.
“I haven’t got any post-Tour criterium offers yet. In the last two years, I have. Even one year I wasn’t in a grand tour, and I had offers for post-Tour criteriums.”