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Tour de France 2015: Lanterne Rouge – stage 21

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Photographs: BrakeThrough Media

It shouldn’t happen to a Frenchman.
When Thomas Voeckler’s gurning challenge for a final, fleeting burst of glory on the Champs-Élysées was derailed by a mechanical, a nation held its breath.
Would the housewife’s favourite, jersey unzipped to the waist regardless of inclement conditions, be able to rejoin the speeding peloton in time for another glorious, if fruitless attack? Ah, non.

Still, all was not lost. Surely even Voeckler’s vanity did not prevent him from sharing in the delight at team-mate Bryan Coquard’s late challenge for victory?
While his unfortunately-named colleague was pushing stage winner André Greipel to the line, Voeckler trailed home last of all. Merde!
Another Frenchman finished the race last on GC, but Sébastien Chavanel’s confirmation as Lanterne Rouge is not a matter for mockery, however well intentioned (we jest, Tommy, of course: your 2011 Tour offered one of the bravest defences of the maillot jaune in recent memory).
Chavanel has been carrying the metaphorical red light since stage 17, when the opening Alpine stage accounted for seven riders, from GC contender Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) to young sprinter Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon18), the previous Lanterne Rouge.
Chavanel’s effort is as estimable as those French stage winners, however: Vuillermoz, Bardet and Pinot. There is unlikely to be a herd of reporters waiting breathlessly for his summation of the Tour in Paris this evening, though perhaps there will be a little champagne.
His is the life of the majority of the peloton: hard graft, and plenty of it. Knocked off his bike by a support car at De Ronde, failing to make the time cut on the final stage of the Tour de Suisse, and rounding out the GC through the Alps, no-one can lecture Chavanel on suffering.
It is spirit such as his that draws us all to professional cycling, and why finishing last at the Tour de France is an achievment of such immeasurably greater magnitude than victory in lesser sports.
Tonight, Chavanel can put his feet up and reflect on his part in a 3,360km bike race: on 89 hours, 43 minutes, and 13 seconds of effort; on crashes and cobbles, soaring peaks and never-ending descents; nerve-shredding speeds one moment, ignominous grovelling the next.
Chapeau, Sébastien. Chapeau, the Lanterne Rouge.

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