(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

The battle for the €1,000 lanterne rouge voucher is intensifying

A mystery holiday is on the line this Tour de France, and there is (maybe) an inter-team tussle.

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The prestige of finishing positions in the Tour de France starts strong and drops sharply – but then something odd happens with the last rider left in the race. Hours behind in accumulated time, this last finisher gets a special name – the Lanterne Rouge, so named after the lamp on the back of a train.

With this title comes extra exposure, invitations to the lucrative post Tour de France crits, and a place in history. So romanticised is the lanterne rouge that riders used to compete for the honour, deliberately riding slower to pip their rivals. Now, for 2022, a sponsor has decided to incentivise things further. 

This year, the lanterne rouge will wear a special dossard on the final stage into Paris, as revealed in the regulations: 

They will also win a “well-deserved holiday”, courtesy of travel booking company lastminute-dot-com:

I have little enough to lose that I will admit here that the mysterious nature of the holiday had me, initially, quite excited. I had visions of a road-weary Tour finisher being bundled in a van on the Champs Élysées, whisked off to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and flown economy to Ashgabat against their will.

Sadly, that will not be the case. After a couple of days of badgering my preferred ASO contacts, I exclusively learned that the recipient receives a much more boring, much more sensible €1,000 voucher. Better for them, worse for us, but ah well.

There will also, the ASO confirmed, be a donation to the children’s charity l’Envol, to the tune of one euro per minute that is shelled to the yellow jersey. That is quite lovely. I like this classification quite a lot.

The lanterne rouge classification

So who’s in the running for this prize? Where would they choose to go? Would they be happy about it? 

As of the end of stage 19, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is in the lanterne rouge hot seat, 5:33:02 behind Jonas Vingegaard. Ewan is one of the fastest sprinters in the sport and is a good shot for the stage win on the Champs Élysées, but he has had a pretty rotten Tour de France so far. He crashed into a bale of hay on stage 5, struggled on the road to Megève airport, crashed again on stage 13, and was left by his teammates to ride his own pace on several of the Tour’s biggest climbs, including Alpe d’Huez. He has earned a mystery holiday, certainly, but does he want it? 

Caleb Ewan was the last rider on the road to Megève. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

In second last place is Movistar’s Albert Torres, a man I am learning about for the first time this Tour de France. Today, after he got caught in a group behind on the road, he lost more than 10 minutes and split up what had been a kind of anti-podium by Lotto-Soudal (Frederic Frison had been in third). I didn’t know that at the time I was conducting interviews this morning, so I cannot gauge his feelings on the matter. Regardless, Movistar is traditionally not inclined to speaking to English language outlets – especially if they want to ask them weird questions – so I would have been too much of a coward to ask. I will guess that Torres wants to go to Nice, based on nothing whatsoever.

In third last place we have Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Lotto-Soudal). The South African champion got a late call-up to Lotto-Soudal after Qhubeka-NextHash collapsed, and is riding his sixth Tour de France. He needs to lose six and a bit minutes in two stages, one of them a 40 km time trial. Unlikely, perhaps, but possible. I get the sense that Janse van Rensburg comes into the lanterne rouge fight with a bit more motivation for a mystery holiday than the Monaco-based multimillionaire currently leading the classification. 

Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg in his South African champion’s kit, 2022. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

An attempt to sound out Caleb Ewan’s feelings on the matter was unsuccessful – my request for an interview was, the team press officer said, “a bit complicated”, before he whisked Ewan back to the bus without so much as a backward glance, which is admittedly about what I deserved.

Janse van Rensburg was a bit more obliging. The team was hoping for a stage win for Ewan today, on the flatter roads into Cahors, and Janse van Rensburg would be one of the men helping to get him there (it didn’t pan out). But that was just window-dressing for the questions that had been burning a hole in my notebook for the last couple of days.

Which were as follows:

CyclingTips: You have three guys down the back of the GC. Is there any internal competition for the lanterne rouge? 

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg: [Tastefully sidestepping the question] “I won’t say it’s ‘competition’, but it’s quite cool they do it [recognise the lanterne rouge] this year.” 

CT: Where would you go if you won a thousand euros as lanterne rouge? 

RJVR: [A considered pause for a moment, before, a laugh.] “Disneyland.”

CT: Disneyland?! Which one?

RJVR: Paris. [laughter] Paris, we’re right there. 

CT: But Reinardt, you’re already going to be in Paris. I think you’ve still got quite a bit left in the kitty if you’re just going to Disneyland Paris. 

RJVR: [thoughtful pause]

CT: I was wondering if you’d go, like, a volume play; whether you’d go 10 nights somewhere cheap, or whether you’d go three nights in Monaco?

RJVR: Zanzibar, I guess? Zanzibar’s always a good place. 

CT: Thankyou for your time. 

There are two stages remaining until the Tour de France’s lanterne rouge is crowned. In addition to the thousand euros – putting the ‘grand’ in Grand Tour – the Tour organisers confirmed to CyclingTips that the winner would get to wear the special dossard and be recognised on the podium. But only if they want to be.

CyclingTips hopes that the final recipient – whether it is Caleb Ewan, Albert Torres, or especially Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (if we’re playing favourites) – wears it with pride. We salute you.

Update: After the stage 20 time trial, in which Caleb Ewan lost a further 1.05 to Albert Torres, the fight for the lanterne rouge is over. Our condolences to Reinardt Janse van Rensburg’s hypothetical holiday plans.

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