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Tour De France: The Red Light Zone

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There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call ... the red light zone.

While the clock ticks down on Team Sky's objective of landing a Briton on the top step of the Tour's final podium before the half-decade is out (2010 was like an Atlas engine failing to go off; 2011 looks like one of those crash and burns that peppered the early space programme) it's worth recalling the contribution Britain has made at the other end of the race: they've twice won the lanterne rouge outright.

The first came in the year of the famous Hercules team, 1955. That year Brian Robinson became the first Briton to finish the Tour and his team-mate Tony Hoar rolled home more than four hours behind him, the last man home. In the Alps, Hoar had finished four minutes outside the cut-off time after having ridden nearly two hundred kilometres alone. For some reason the blazers were in a compassionate mood and found a way to let Hoar stay in the race, deciding he'd been delayed by traffic.

Thirteen years after the Hercules boys, Vin Denson finished second from last, twenty minutes ahead of another Briton, John Clarey, who had the honour of becoming Britain's second lanterne rouge. Clarey is at least remembered in the annals of the Tour de France. Who remembers the rider who finished just a few places a head of him: Jean-Marie Leblanc?

Anyway, enough boring blathering about the past, let's get to some boring blathering about the present: the 2011 race for the lanterne rouge.

Stage Six: Thursday - Dinan to Lisieux

We left off last time with Europcar's Vincent Jérôme bringing up the rear and at the end of stage six - after a masochistic two hundred twenty-six kilometres to the homeland of the ecstatic St Therese - that's still where he was. But Jérôme's lead in the race to the bottom opened up markedly, starting the day at a 5'27" gap to the next-to-last rider and ending it at 11'19". Buffering up for the Central Massive?

There were a few other changes in the bottom ten, most notable being Sexy Back's Hernandez Blazquez dropping down into second from last, shunting Quick Step's Addy Engels up the rankings a place.

The pre-race fave for the glory of the red lantern, last year's winner Adriano Malori (Lampre), was having fun off the front of the race in one of those doomed breakaways the sprint trains like to toy with. Malori ended the day halfway between the front and the back but bagged the daily combativity prize. Scant reward for being swept up and spat out just three kilos from the line, especially when you realise the break he went away with made their escape after only eight kilometres of racing. Jacky Durand would be proud of him.

Stage General Classification
184 GREIPEL André (OMEGA) @ 12'26"
185 QUEMENEUR (EUROPCAR) @ 12'26"
186 BUFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 12'26"
187 PORTE Richie (SAXO BANK) @ 12'26"
188 CHAVANEL Sylvain Chavanel (QUICK STEP) @ 12'26"
189 URTASUN PEREZ Pablo (EUSKALTEL) @ 12'26"
190 TIRALONGO Paolo (ASTANA) @ 12'26"
191 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 12'26"
192 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 12'26"
193 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 12'26"
184 TERPSTRA Niki (QUICK STEP) @ 26'44"
185 URTASUN PEREZ Pablo (EUSKALTEL) @ 26'49"
186 BIFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 28'26"
187 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 29'26"
188 AMADOR BAKKAZAKOVA Andrey (MOVISTAR) @ 30'13"
189 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 30'44"
190 ISAICHEV Vladimir (KATUSHA) @ 31'20"
191 ENGELS Addy (QUICK STEP) @ 31'59"
192 HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ Jesús (SAXO BANK) @ 35'04"
193 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 46'23"

Stage Seven: Friday - Le Mans to Châteauroux

After seven days of racing the field is now eight riders lighter than when it rolled across the Passage du Gois (one DQ, one DNS and six DNFs). Today it was time for stars like Twiggo (who cracked a clav) and Tommeke (suffering from concussion and whiplash, the latter presumably from watching PhilGil usurp his popularity) to follow the stage direction to exit, pursued by a bear.

Vincent Jérôme's iPillow must have Elton John's I'm Still Standing top of its play-list, the Europcar rider still hanging in there at the bottom of the race. But the Tro-Bro Léon winner finished a good nine-and-a-half minutes ahead of the grupetto - which contained possible red lantern rival Hernandez Blazquez - leaving Jérôme with a cushion of just 1'44" at the bottom of the rankings before the roads turn lumpy through the Central Massive. Maybe the guy's not taking this race as seriously as we thought?

Addy Engels continued to climb away from the bottom of the race, with his team-mate Gert Steegmans dropping into the third from bottom place. Those Quick Steps - what's going on there? It's more like Slow Slow Quick Step Slow, with three of them in the bottom ten and no one in the top ten. Fun fact about QS DS Parick Lefevere: he was the DS of Gerhard Schönbacher all those years ago. One version of the story has it that Schönbacher was offered a bonus if he won the lanterne rouge and then, when Schönbacher achieved his goal, Lefevere refused to cough up the dosh. Personally I can't believe a story like that, not about someone like Lefevere.

Stage General Classification
181 KADRI Blel (AG2R) @ 4'14"
182 POPOVYCH Yaroslav (RADIOSHACK) @ 6'38"
183 PAULINHO Sergio (RADIOSHACK) @ 6'38"
184 NAVARDAUSKAS Ramunas (GARMIN) @ 6'38"
185 FOFONOV Dmitriy (ASTANA) @ 12'41"
186 HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ Jesus (SAXO BANK) @ 12'41"
187 ZEITS Andrey (ASTANA) @ 12'41"
188 CIOLEK Gerald (QUICK STEP) @ 12'41"
189 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 12'41"
190 HORNER Christopher (RADIOSHACK) @ 12'41"
181 TERPSTRA Niki (QUICK STEP) @ 29'50"
182 AMADOR Andrey (MOVISTAR) @ 30'13"
183 KADRI Blel (AG2R) @ 30'13"
184 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 30'44"
185 BUFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 31'32"
186 ISAICHEV Vladimir (KATUSHA) @ 31'39"
187 ENGELS Addy (QUICK STEP) @ 35'05"
188 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 42'07"
189 HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ Jesus (SAXO BANK) @ 47'45"
190 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 49'29"

Stage Eight: Saturday - Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy

The problem with taxis - one of the many problems with taxis - is that they're dangerous. You can catch infectious diseases in taxis. Things like ear worms. They're horrible little things are ear worms. You try spending a Saturday with 'movie star oh movie star, you really are a movie star' repeating in your head on a loop. Fuck me but I hate Classic Hits radio. It's no wonder taxi-drivers are grumpy gits, listening to Bore FM all day long.

But, funnily, that 'classic' little ditty from who knows when was what was playing when I got into a taxi today (and thus embedded itself in my head) and then ... lo! there was Movistar's Rui Costa romping home first at the front of the race while another Movistar rider, Andrey Amador, continued to haunt the red light zone at the bottom of the GC. I'm tempted to take this as a sign of something and punt on Amador for the overall red lantern. More likely it's just a sign that taxi drivers have even worser taste in music than what I do.

On the DNS/DNF/DQ side of the story, a dazed and confused Chris Horner decided that discretion really is the better part of Valerie. The Shack's rash of road rash victims has left some fearing that Johan Bruyneel could be running out of bib-shorts. But at least I've stopped crapping my pants at the thought of Boss Hog breaking away to form a league of his own now that Radioshack have re-upped for another couple of seasons. The greatest directeur sportive in the whole history of the ever ever can now continue applying The Tao Of Boss Hog to his quest for a third Tour de France victor to bring him level with Cyrille Guimard and leave the running of the racing calendar to the professionals. Well, the UCI anyway.

What else happened on the first day of the lumpy stuff in the Central Massive? Not a lot really, except for Vincent Jérôme pushing his deficit back out, this time to 7'22". It's not actually Jérôme who's yo-yoing but Sexy Back's Hernandez Blazquez, who climbed out of the bottom three. The other two steps in the lanterne rouge podium are filled by Quick Steppers, Addy Engels and Gert Steegmans.

Stage General Classification
179 BOOM Lars (RABOBANK) @ 19'59"
180 SWIFT Ben (SKY) @ 19'59"
181 VENTOSO Francisco (MOVISTAR) @ 19'59"
182 GARATE Juan Manuel (RABOBANK) @ 19'59"
183 CIOLEK Gerald (QUICK STEP) @ 19'59"
184 JEANDESBOZ Fabrice (SAUR) @ 19'59"
185 HIVERT Jonathan (SAUR) @ 20'07"
186 KREUZIGER Roman (ASTANA) @ 20'07"
187 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 20'07"
188 POELS Wouter (VACANSOLEIL) @ 28'48"
179 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 49'36"
180 AMADOR Andrey (MOVISTAR) @ 49'57"
181 KADRI Blel (AG2R) @ 49'57"
182 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 50'28"
183 BUFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 51'16"
184 ISAICHEV Vladimir (KATUSHA) @ 51'23"
185 HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ Jesus (SAXO BANK) @ 53'06"
186 ENGELS Addy (QUICK STEP) @ 53'39"
187 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 1h1'51"
188 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 1h9'13"

Stage Nine: Sunday - Issoire to Saint-Flour

And still they continue to fall like Summer flies. Already the lanterne rouge rider is doing better than the eighteen who have so far abandoned the race. The road from Issoire to Saint-Flour saw the egos crash-land, with more big name riders joining the cannon-fodder as the field got whittled down to just one hundred eighty riders (queue the annual screed: 'Is This The Most Dangerous Tour Ever?' (© everyone)).

It was a day when he got to bid adieu to another couple or three heavy hitters. Bye bye Vino, don't let the door hit you on your way out. Bye bye JVDB, at least you can stop whining about PhilGil being the chosen one and getting preferential treatment. André Greipel will just have to gripe on without out. And Z - you really do need to be riding with your stabilisers still on, don't you?

And what's going on with those responsible for reporting the race? First a Getty Images photo-motto takes out Nicki Sørensen on stage five, then today a France Telévision car decided to try and take-out the breakaway, sideswiping Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha who then skittled Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland. I know that the peeps at France Telévision think race radios are killing the excitement, but is such a blatant attempt as this to turn the Tour into a demolition derby really going to drive up their audience share? Could they really think that the Tour needs to import gimmicks from Wipeout?

Before getting to the man at the back of the race, how about we look at how the teams are performing. At the business end of the race there's a team classification, placings in which are based on taking the time of each team's top three riders. But being the bottom of that ranking does not really mean you're the worst team at the Tour, as the situation is calculated on the time of the three best placed riders in each team. The last team therefore is simply the least best.

Surely to find the lanterne rouge of teams you'd need to calculate the table based on the times of each team's bottom three riders? Time to don my manky anorak, turn on Excel, press some buttons, mutter a few incantations and see what that table tells us as we go into the race's rest day:

Team Classification Based on Slowest Riders Team Classification Based on Fastest Riders
22 SKY PROCYCLING (8 riders) 117h32'45"
21 TEAM LEOPARD-TREK (9 riders) 117h48'38"
20 RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM (8 riders) 117h49'40"
19 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI (7 riders) 117h51'11"
18 AG2R LA MONDIALE (9 riders) 117h55'35"
17 SAXO BANK SUNGARD (9 riders) 118h4'28"
16 MOVISTAR TEAM (7 riders) 118h6'19"
15 FDJ (8 riders) 118h12'8"
14 VACANSOLEIL-DCM (8 riders) 118h12'11"
13 BMC RACING TEAM (9 riders) 118h12'15"
12 OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO (6 riders) 118h15'13"
11 TEAM RADIOSHACK (7 riders) 118h17'35"
10 LAMPRE - ISD (9 riders) 118h18'36"
9 PRO TEAM ASTANA (8 riders) 118h23'45"
8 TEAM GARMIN - CERVELO (8 riders) 118h26'14"
7 LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE (9 riders) 118h30'20"
6 COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE (9 riders) 118h35'55"
5 KATUSHA TEAM (8 riders) 118h41'30"
4 HTC - HIGHROAD (9 riders) 118h47'25"
3 SAUR-SOJASUN (9 riders) 118h51'31"
2 TEAM EUROPCAR (8 riders) 118h58'4"
1 QUICK STEP CYCLING TEAM (8 riders) 119h20'57"
1 TEAM LEOPARD-TREK (9 riders) 115h53'47"
2 RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM (8 riders) 115h56'27"
3 TEAM GARMIN - CERVELO (8 riders) 116h0'1"
4 TEAM RADIOSHACK (7 riders) 116h0'46"
5 TEAM EUROPCAR (8 riders) 116h4'5"
6 KATUSHA TEAM (8 riders) 116h5'2"
7 HTC - HIGHROAD (9 riders) 116h6'5"
8 SKY PROCYCLING (8 riders) 116h6'29"
9 AG2R LA MONDIALE (9 riders) 116h10'32"
10 QUICK STEP CYCLING TEAM (8 riders) 116h12'50"
11 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI (7 riders) 116h14'12"
12 COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE (9 riders) 116h17'6"
13 LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE (9 riders) 116h17'22"
14 VACANSOLEIL-DCM (8 riders) 116h20'56"
15 FDJ (8 riders) 116h24'4"
16 BMC RACING TEAM (9 riders) 116h24'9"
17 OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO (6 riders) 116h32'39"
18 LAMPRE - ISD (9 riders) 116h36'28"
19 SAXO BANK SUNGARD (9 riders) 116h37'33"
20 MOVISTAR TEAM (7 riders) 116h45'56"
21 SAUR-SOJASUN (9 riders) 116h47'13"
22 PRO TEAM ASTANA (8 riders) 116h54'54"

Just as I thought: that table's telling me that I need to get out more.

That ear worm I caught in a taxi on Saturday is still bugging me: which is fitting given that Movistar's Andrey Amador dropped closer to the bottom of the GC. I know the ancient Romans used to use chicken entrails to tell the future, but me using an ear worm ... hmmnn, not so sure about that. Elsewhere, Sexy Back's Hernandez Blazquez climbed out of the red light zone. I think he's just a red light tease and we should forget about him for the overall red light.

Here's one of those quaint doubles stattos love so dearly: Europcar finished the day with both the maillot jaune and the lanterne rouge, Thomas Voeckler sitting prettty at the front of the race and Vincent Jérôme making it all the way to the first rest day of the race having held the lanterne rouge since the first day. Well done that team. Well done that man.

Stage General Classification
171 BOLE Grega (LAMPRE) @ 21'11"
172 POPOVYCH Yaroslav (RADIOSHACK) @ 21'11"
173 COYOT Arnaud (SAUR) @ 21'11"
174 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 21'11"
175 CHAVANEL Sylvain (QUICK STEP) @ 21'11"
176 DUMOULIN Samuel (COFIDIS) @ 21'11"
177 EISEL Bernhard (HTC) @ 21'26"
178 CAVENDISH Mark (HTC) @ 21'26"
179 TERPSTRA Niki (QUICK STEP) @ 21'28"
180 JEANDESBOZ Fabrice (SAUR) @ 21'48"
171 KADRI Blel (AG2R) @ 1h5'1"
172 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 1h5'32"
173 BUFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 1h6'20"
174 SABATINI Fabio (LIQUIGAS) @ 1h8'34"
175 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 1h9'13"
176 AMADOR Andrey (MOVISTAR) @ 1h9'54"
177 ISAICHEV Vladimir (KATUSHA) @ 1h11'0"
178 ENGELS Addy (QUICK STEP) @ 1h13'16"
179 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 1h21'28"
180 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 1h28'50"

Stage Ten: Tuesday - Aurillac to Carmaux

No change at either end of the Tour - Europcar continue to hold both the maillot jaune and the lanterne rouge - but a couple more riders dropped by the wayside, including - who woulda  thunk it? - a rider caught up in one of the Italian doping investigations. Gosh but my faith in a clean peloton has really been shaken by that one.

Stage General Classification
169 BAK Lars (HTC) @ 07'00"
170 MOLLEMA Bauke (RABOBANK) @ 07'00"
171 GADRET John (AG2R) @ 07'00"
172 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 07'00"
173 JEANDESBOZ Fabrice (SAUR) @ 07'00"
174 NAVARRO Daniel (SAXO BANK) @ 07'00"
175 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 07'00"
176 GENE Yohann (EUROPCAR) @ 07'00"
177 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 07'00"
178 BURGHARDT Marcus (BMC) @ 07'00"
169 BAK Lars (HTC) @ 1h9'27"
170 BUFFAZ Mickaël (COFIDIS) @ 1h11'53"
171 MURAVYEV Dmitriy (RADIOSHACK) @ 1h12'32"
172 SABATINI Fabio (LIQUIGAS) @ 1h14'33"
173 ENGOULVENT Jimmy (SAUR) @ 1h16'13"
174 AMADOR Andrey (MOVISTAR) @ 1h16'54"
175 ISAICHEV Vladimir (KATUSHA) @ 1h16'59"
176 ENGELS Addy (QUICK STEP) @ 1h19'15"
177 STEEGMANS Gert (QUICK STEP) @ 1h27'27"
178 JÉRÔME Vincent (EUROPCAR) @ 1h35'50"

See also Raise High The Red Lantern, Cyclists and Race To The Bottom