Question: Last place is AWESOME! Right Andy? [Andy was Lanterne Rouge in the Daily Peloton Vuelta Fantasy Game] Finishing last shows true grit.
Bingen & Nikane: There is a status that comes with last place. There was actually a fight last year with a CSC rider as to who was going to take last place. -- Daily Peloton
The French phrase, which translates to "red lantern," is used to describe the racer who finishes dead last in the overall standings when the peloton reaches Paris. (The terminology is borrowed from railway jargon for the archaic practice of hanging a red light on the caboose of trains, which assured station operators that no cars had come uncoupled.)
The designation falls somewhere between insult and accolade. Mr. Vansevenant, who after Stage 18 sits in 150th place, some 3 hours and 45 minutes behind Mr. Sastre, is indeed the worst-placed rider in the Tour de France. But, in turn, he has outlasted those who abandoned the Tour through illness, injury or simple exhaustion; those who were eliminated for failing to finish within each day's time limit and are forced to withdraw; and those who were banned or withdrew for doping-related causes. From year to year, about 20% of the riders drop out. In other words, you can't simply coast to last place; you have to work for it.
The curious combination of a stubborn refusal to fail mixed with an inability to rise to victory traditionally transforms a Lanterne Rouge rider into a cult favorite, even though the accomplishment is neither recognized nor encouraged by Tour officials. The race organization, in fact, has at times had a contentious relationship with the Lanterne Rouge. In 1980, Austrian racer Gerhard Schoenbacher was on his way to a second consecutive last-place when, he says, race officials thought he was getting too much attention. "I got daily interviews," Mr. Schoenbacher told journalist Rupert Guinness in an interview that year. "I was very popular with the crowd and I continued to tell everyone that I liked being last. [The organizers] said I made a mockery of the Tour."
Mid-race, officials instituted a temporary rule: After each stage, the last-place racer would be eliminated. Mr.Schoenbacher defied the rule by finishing in second-to-last place until the final stage, when he plummeted down to collect his Lanterne Rouge. -- Bill Strickland
In recent years, Tour organizers have discouraged any publicity about the red lantern because riders fervently began to abuse its original intention.
Since the second-to-last rider in the final standings' wouldn't earn anything for his status, back-of-the-back riders took crafty measures to finish last. They'd hide behind buildings, coast along routes or feign injury in order to be last.
The last rider doesn't receive prize money for his finish, either. But in yesteryear, it was common for lanterne rouge honorees to receive sizable appearance fees to compete in post-Tour appearance criteriums, the fast-paced races on short, enclosed courses throughout Europe.
"It adds nothing," Jean Marie Leblanc, the now-retired Tour de France race director said of the red lantern designation. "Today it is part of the lore of the Tour de France, but it no longer exists officially or unofficially." -- James Raia