Cycling is perhaps unique in sport in conferring honour upon its last placed competitor, and rightly so. The man who continues in the Tour de France when reason says stop is brave indeed.
Step forward Michael Matthews, or, in the case of today’s Lanterne Rouge column, the entire Orica-GreenEDGE team. Deprived by outrageous misfortune of a third of its starting line-up, the Australian team battled courageously through the team time trial, a discipline more likely than any other to expose weakness in a squad.
In normal circumstances, Orica would expect to be among the frontrunners (winners of the opening stage TTT at last year’s Giro, for example). On the 28km course in Brittany, however, they finished, predictably, in last place, some 4.58 behind stage winners BMC Racing. Even the second to last squad, Cofidis, were 2.32 quicker.
Battling nine men with six is no easy task, however, or, to quote Pieter Weening, “It’s just a day of surviving”. Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey crashed out in the same collision that left Matthews with damaged ribs on stage three, and two days later, Michael Albasini retired with a broken arm. That they finished comfortably within the 30 per cent time cut is a testament to the spirit of the team, as well as to the time trialling talent within, notably Luke Durbridge and Svein Tuft.
Orica will look forward to the mountains that lie ahead, even if Matthews would be unlikely to do so, even in normal circumstances. The Yates twins are likely now to take centre stage.
The team reaches the first rest day in last place on the team classification and with Matthews last on GC. The road ahead is long and steep in places but we can expect further displays of the famed Aussie grit and embodiment of the spirit of the lanterne rouge.