By James Raia

Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling

(Phil Liggett, a co-author with Sammarye Lewis and me of Tour de France For Dummies, will be broadcasting his 34th Tour de France, beginning July 1 in Strasbourg, France.)

By JAMES RAIA

Phil Liggett had just arrived from an overseas journey, and he appeared to be in trouble. With a notebook in hand and his eyes focused on a finish-line clock, the British broadcaster and journalist was trying to take notes on a windy, rainy day in Wilmington, Del.

Liggett has withstood worse days. This occasion, however, the opening day of the now-defunct Tour DuPont 10 years ago, was pertinent for two reasons.

The nasty day represented a perfect day in Belgium, a cycling hub. And it showcased Liggett at his best.

From the Tour de France to the Tour of Tasmania, the Tour of Texas to the Tour of Italy, Liggett has been there.

For nearly 40 years, and sometimes for no apparent reason, he’s taken meticulous notes in wet notebooks on horrid days and while using uncooperative pens.

“I don’t have great faith in computers for everything,” said Liggett, who rarely uses his notations. “I don’t necessarily keep these notes after a year or so, I just let them drift away or they go into a corner of the room.

“But by writing these things down, it lodges in my mind. I have a photographic memory and I’m very proud of it. I can look at the camera and give you a complete report on the race.”

Liggett, 61, is the voice of cycling. He logs more than 200,000 air miles and spends more than 250 days per year on the road following the circuit.

Last summer, while working for four broadcasting networks, one newspaper and one web site, Liggett completed his 33nd Tour de France.

“People say, ‘You must be crazy looking at the same race every year,’ ” said Liggett. “But it’s not the same race. This was one of the best Tours I’ve worked on. It’s been great to write about and report on. There was a story everyday. I never got tired. I mean there are other things I’d like to do, but I have no thoughts of retirement.”

Following an amateur cycling career, Liggett began his print journalism career in 1967 with Britain’s Cycling Magazine (now Cycling Weekly). He opted for freelance reporting in 1971. One day when a broadcasting friend became ill, Liggett was asked to be a last-minute replacement.

Much has occurred since. Liggett’s NBC coverage of ski jumping at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, for example, earned him “best announcer” honors from The New York Times. He’s broadcast the Hawaiian Ironman to various other endurance events. But he’s largely known for his cycling broadcasts.

Liggett also remains loyal to print journalism. He writes Tour de France and other cycling articles for the Daily Telegraph in London, and he’s written five cycling books.

For the past 20 years, Paul Sherwen has been Liggett’s traveling and broadcast partner. A seven-time Tour de France participant, Sherwen, 48, provides co-broadcasting and analysis for Liggett to U.S. audiences on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN).

In recent years, as Lance Armstrong has added to his now six-year victory streak at the Tour de France, OLN’s and the broadcasting duo’s popularity has rapidly increased.

While attending the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia in 2003, Liggett noticed several fans’ signs that read: “Don’t Retire, Phil.”

Liggett has no such plans. Because of his lengthy tenure, however, rumors have begun.

The Sherwen-Liggett tandem works in a folksy style. They can be critical of races, cyclists and organizers, but they also don’t hide their fondness for the cycling and favorite competitors. They’re also prone to picking up on nuances in races before they occur.

During the Tour de France in recent years, Liggett worked for OLN as well as networks in Britain, South Africa and Australia. He voiced over the Tour’s internal international broadcast.

“For the average person, they turn on the television and see the bunch going along hour after hour,” Liggett explained. “They say, ‘Hey, that’s great. But what the hell is going on?’ But if you take them into the pack and pick up on a couple of riders and explain how the teams are trying to position themselves for a finish . . . well, then you really get them hooked on the sport.”

Best friends away from work, Liggett and Sherwen and their respective wives vacation together. The broadcasting duo and several current and former cyclists are partners in a gold mine in Uganda. Both also share an interest in wildlife; Liggett is an expert ornithologist.

“We’re always driving down the motorway and I will say, ‘that’s a black-tailed kite,’ ” said Liggett. “We’re always looking for them. I recognize most of the birds in Europe and in South Africa because I go there a lot. I’m rusty in America. I take a bird book, Audubon, with me there.”

Liggett is also humble. Sherwen once took his broadcast partner on a Kenyan safari. Liggett identified 146 bird species during the journey. He logged each variety in a notebook and then onto a laptop computer program.

“Every year I say I’m going to do less,” Liggett said. “But it hasn’t worked; this has been my busiest year. It’s ridiculous. I dread to think about this year. I haven’t been home. Well, I’ve been home. But it will be about the same time on the road this year, about 270-275 days.”

Stretching: It’s For Cyclists, Too By BRAD WALKER

Stretching is a simple and effective activity that involves placing a particular part of your body in a position that will lengthen the muscles and tendons.

This simple technique will help to enhance your athletic performance, decreases the likelihood of muscle and joint injury and minimize muscle soreness.

Unfortunately, stretching is one area of cycling training that’s often neglected.

Stretching is a vital part of any exercise program and should be looked upon as being as important as any other part of your training.

Upon undertaking a regular stretching program a number of changes occur within your body. As a result of increasing the length of your muscles and tendons, a reduction in general muscle tension is achieved and your normal range of movement is increased.

By extending your normal range of movement you’ll gain a greater ability to move freely and ultimately increase your comfort level while on your bike.

Increasing your range of movement will also mean a lessening of your susceptibility to muscle and tendon strain injuries. By increasing your range of movement you’re increasing the distance your limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons.

For example, the large muscles in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps) do a huge amount of work while you’re on the bike. It is not uncommon for these muscles to become tight, which in turn can place a large strain on your knees and result in knee pain.

A few simple quadriceps stretches both before and after your ride will help to loosen these muscles and reduce the strain on your knees.

There is a dangerous stretching myth that says, “If you stretch too much you will lose both joint stability and muscle power.”

This is untrue. By increasing the length of your muscles and tendons, you are increasing the distance over which your muscles are able to contract.

This results in a potential increase to your muscles’ power and therefore increases your cycling ability, while also leading to an improvement in dynamic balance (the ability to control your muscles).

We have all experienced what happens when you go for a long ride or to the gym for the first time in a few months.

The following day your muscles are tight, sore, stiff and it’s usually hard to even walk down a flight of stairs.

This soreness that accompanies strenuous physical activity is often referred to as post exercise muscle soreness, and is the result of micro tears, (minute tears within the muscle fibres), blood pooling and accumulated waste products, such as lactic acid.

Stretching, as part of an effective cool-down, helps to alleviate this soreness by lengthening the individual muscle fibres; increasing blood circulation; and removing waste products.

Fatigue is a major problem for all cyclists and results in a decrease in both physical and mental performance.

Increased flexibility through stretching can help prevent the effects of fatigue by taking pressure off the working muscles.

For every muscle in the body has an opposite or opposing muscle and if the opposing muscles are more flexible, the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against the opposing muscles.

Therefore, each movement of the working muscles actually takes less effort.

Also, by reducing fatigue through improved flexibility, you’re able to reduce the effects of overuse injuries so common among cyclists.

Floyd Landis: The Rise And Crash Of A Tour de France Champion

NEWS BULLETIN

. . . (The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland has ruled against dethroned 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis’ to bid overturn his two-year US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) ban and clear his name.

Landis will have to serve the full two-year suspension retroactive to Jan. 30, 2007, the date when he declared voluntary non-competition status. Landis was ordered to pay $100,000 in costs to the USADA.) . . .

And so nearly two years after one of cycling’s darkest moments, Floyd Landis has lost his arbitration appeal to keep his 2006 Tour de France title.

In the best of worlds, reporters are supposed to remain objective, but that’s not a reality. And when a decision like this goes against a nice guy, it’s more difficult to understand.

France ChampionIf you interview an athlete for several years, like I’ve done with cyclists and golfers (and years ago with NBA players), you develop opinions. Some guys (and women) you like, others you don’t.

Not too many reporters, as far as I know, like Barry Bonds. I’ve never interviewed him, but if half of what others have said is true, and after observing him for years, if Bonds is ever found guilty I’d revel in it. The guy’s no good, and whatever he’d get, he’d deserve.

But when nice guys cheat or they’re accused of cheating, it’s not the same. You meet Floyd Landis, you meet Tyler Hamilton and they both look you in the eyes. They’re humble. You respect how they train, how they conduct themselves, how they treat others. They epitomize sportsmanship, and you like them.

And like Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, Hamilton and Landis had good stories to tell and great skills to show. Like no others, the American foursome all helped endurance sports transition into the media mainstream.

It’s a world full of sports editors and reporters who used to play football, basketball or baseball and who perhaps thought maybe they’d make it into “The Show” if it weren’t for a bad break. Still, some get endurance sports, others don’t. And so the easiest thing for those who don’t get it, is to dismiss sports like cycling and provide only obligatory coverage.

Remember, for example, when loudmouth columnist Skip Bayless said cycling isn’t a sport? The guy’s never been to the Tour de France, but he sure had something to say about it.

It’s part of the same reason boxing and horse racing, both ripe with corruption, still get covered as if nothing’s wrong.

But forget walk-off home runs, clutch putts and game-winning jump shots. They’re all OK. But watch a guy leave the peloton and ride up a mountain in rarefied air high into the Alps or Pyrenees and then you’ve seen something.

France ChampionI can’t help but like it. I’ve seen hundred of race finishes, and when a rider crosses the line first and displays his own unique style of emotion — sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly — it’s great stuff. I look for it in every race I attend.

Several years ago now, when Tyler Hamilton (remember him?) tested positive, his legion of fans made buttons that read: “I Believe Tyler.”

It didn’t take long for slightly less innocent cycling observers to amend the phrase to “I Want To Believe Tyler.”

I wanted to believe Tyler, too. And I want to believe Floyd. Why would they cheat? How could they lie to their respective friends and families and to themselves?

It’s nothing new in sport or in life. People cheat for fame and money and who knows for what other reasons? Reporters cheat, cyclists cheat, and I suspect it’s well within the realm of possibility experts in French drug-testing labs cheat.

But if it’s Barry Bonds cheating, it’s one thing. If it’s a nice guy cheating, it’s not as easy to understand — at least not for me. But nice guys do bad things.

It’s been coming to this for a while. And now it’s a certainly. I still cover cycling and I like the athletes and the Tour de France. But I’ll never be able to view cycling the same way again.

Pro Cycling: It’s All About The Team, Really!

(This article originally appeared in the Miami Herald on July 21, 2002.)

BEZIERS, France – Cycling is not always understood as a team sport. But as Lance Armstrong continues his quest for a fourth straight Tour de France title, the two leading teams in the race have provided ideal examples of how the sport works.

In the 10th stage last Thursday, Armstrong regained the lead he held previously only after the prologue July 6.

Pro CyclingBut while he won the 11th stage and subsequently the 12th stage Friday, it was the remainder of his eight-rider U.S. Postal Service team that surrounded him. Whether it was on the flats or in the mountains, team’s collective job was to protect, support and provide drafting its team leader.

Most importantly is the team’s help as riders approached the various climbs toward the finish at La Mongie, high into the Pyrenees.

Simultaneously, the supporting members of the Spanish ONCE team surrounded the former race leader, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano — for as long as they could.

During a brief moment in stage 11 on the live European telecast of the event, the teams working for their respective leaders were shown in an superb aerial view.

The seven support ONE riders (one member the team dropped earlier in the race), rode nearly side-by-side with the eight team riders, known as domestiques (French for domestics), who surrounded Armstrong.

But when the riders reached the mountains, the teams’ non-climbers began to peel away.

In the instance of the U.S.P.S. team, it was Spanish rider Roberto Heras who remained and who guided Armstrong to the win, a victory Armstrong would have preferred to give to his teammate.

When Galdeano dropped off the pace as the riders progressed on the steepest part of the climb, Heras accelerated and Armstrong followed right behind.

“Heras started a rhythm that was very fast,” said Armstrong. “I was in no position to attack. I just followed Roberto to the finish. Heras sacrificed everything for the team and I am grateful.”

Beloki was often sandwiched between the two riders, and never took his turn at the front of the trio as the riders edged closer to the finish.

Armstrong didn’t need the stage win, since he had overtaken Galdeano’s race lead on the course. But there was a caveat. The winner of the stage earned 20 bonus seconds of time, while the runner-up earned 12 seconds and the third-place finisher received eight.

“We talked about giving the stage win to Roberto, but with the bonuses involved, you can’t take chances like that when you’re riding for the yellow jersey,” said Armstrong. “He was the strongest rider of the day, but you can lose the Tour de France sometime with proper etiquette.”

Despite Armstrong winning what would be the first of his two consecutive mountain stages, he did not celebrate overtly at the finish.

Instead, Armstrong just clenched his fist at his side, an acknowledgment of the win, but more a small gesture to show respect him teammate.

“I didn’t have the legs, really,” said Armstrong. “Heras was the strongest climber. I just followed his wheel.”

Such is the team strategy of stage racing.

In addition to Armstrong, the U.S.P.S. team includes Viatcheslav Ekimov, the Russian who is the reigning Olympic time trial gold medalist; George Hincapie, the Greenville,. S.C., resident who’s a one-day classic specialist, and specialist climbers like Heras and Hugo Victor Pena of Colombia and Floyd Landis, the 26-year-old Californian who’s riding in his first Tour.

While the riders have their own accomplishments, in the Tour de France, individuals’ goals are sacrificed to help the rider who’s highest in the team in the overall standing, or general classification.

Like other teams, the U.S.P.S. squad meets each morning to discuss the day’s strategy. Depending upon who’s feeling well or who’s suffering from sickness or recovering from a strong ride the previous day, the team will rotate its responsibilities.

Landis, for example, might be responsible for leading the group early in the mountains, then followed by Ekimov or Hincapie. The roles can also be reversed. Jose Luis Rubiera of Spain, Pena and Heras are usually saved for the most severe climbs – to assist Armstrong for as long as they can.

Most often in flat stages, team riders are assigned to finish just ahead or behind Armstrong, or to ride to his left or right as a wind breaker.

Whether Armstrong is victorious or the individual overall winner is someone else, the winner’s prize money $335,390, plus various individual stage win moneys and team stage earnings.

If Armstrong wins, he will continue his tradition of dividing his earnings among his teammates, but will not take his share.

Armstrong, of course, will make his money away from the competition, with his team contract, sponsorships and his various other business pursuits as a multiple winner of the Tour de France.

Amgen Tour of California (2009) route details unveiled

The official route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, the expanded fourth edition of the largest professional stage race in the United States was announced Thursday by race organizers, a few hours prior to various media briefings throughout the state. As previously announced, then nine-day, estimated 750-mile course will progress from Sacramento to Escondido, Feb. 14-22 and will be one day  and about 100 miles longer than the 2008 edition.

Although teams and riders have not been announced, it’s likely inaugural race winner Floyd Landis (OUCH) and two-time defending titlist Levi Leipheimer (Astana) will compete as will Lance Armstrong.

The event will be Armstrong’s first United States stage race since retiring  after his seventh consecutive Tour de France title in 2005.

The route has also been adjusted from previous details. The start in Sacramento will be a prologue, not the originally announced out-and-back road race. And an announced three-day women’s stage race has been shelved in favor of the women’s run in conjunction with stage 1 in Santa Rosa on Feb. 15.

New cities include for the race’s fourth edition include: Davis, Santa Cruz, Merced, Clovis, Visalia, Paso Robles, Rancho Bernardo and Escondido.

Here’s a capsule of each stage, via race organizers:

Prologue: Sacramento (Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009)
Start time: 1:30 p.m.
Start Location: Intersection of Capitol Mall and 9th St.
Finish Location: Intersection of L St. and 11th St.

The prologue will start off a ramp near the corner of Capitol and L Street. The course heads west toward Tower Bridge before making a U-turn at 4th Street and heading east along Capitol. Riders then take an abrupt right on 9th Street, a left on N Street, whiz past Capitol Park for 10 blocks to 19th Street. They turn left on 19th Street and take another left on L Street before and riding the final eight  blocks to the finish line at 11th and L.

Stage 1: Davis to Santa Rosa (Sunday, Feb. 15)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of C St. and 3rd St. in Davis
Finish Location: Intersection of 3rd St. and Santa Rosa Ave. in Santa Rosa

A new stage, the route includes evenly spaced climbs throughout the stage and spectacular views. After 20 miles of flat roads, riders will negotiate their first climb up a short, but steep section leading Monticello Dam. Another long, flat section along Lake Berryessa will take riders to their second climb up Howell Mountain Rd., followed by a fast descent into Napa Valley.

Stage 2: Sausalito to Santa Cruz (Monday, Feb. 16)
Start Time: 8:30 a.m.
Start Location: Spinnaker Restaurant at 100 Spinnaker Dr. in Sausalito
Finish Location: Intersection of Front St. and Cooper St. in Santa Cruz

Starting on the northern side of the San Francisco Bay, stage 2 will cover more than 100 miles from Sausalito to Santa Cruz.  The stage will begin with a scenic start in Sausalito on the water and will head south across the Golden Gate Bridge and then through the streets of San Francisco.  The route will then take the riders west down the California coastline on Highway 1.  The coastal stage will include two long, but moderate climbs on Tunitas Creek Road and Bonny Doon Road, which will be followed by lengthy and fast descents.

Stage 3: San Jose to Modesto (Tuesday, Feb. 17)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of San Fernando St. and Almaden Blvd. in San Jose
Finish Location: Intersection of I St. and 12th St. in Modesto

Beginning with a climb synonymous with the event, cyclists will head up Sierra Road (1,930 ft.) within the first five miles of the stage. After completing the Sierra Road climb, a likely defining moment of the race, riders will face fast and flat roads full of twists and turns (Calaveras Road alone has more than 40 switchbacks) before climbing Patterson Pass. The stage will finish with two circuits in downtown Modesto.

Stage 4: Merced to Clovis (Wednesday, Feb. 18)
Start Time: 11 a.m.
Start Location: City Hall at the intersection of N St. and 18th St. in Merced
Finish Location: Intersection of Bullard Ave. and Pollasky Ave. in Clovis

Stage 4 will introduce two new host cities and the Sierra Nevada. With four KOMs (“King of the Mountain” competitions) and several sprints, stage 4 will be consistently hilly and technical from the start in Merced to the finish in Clovis. Fans can watch the climbs at four locations – Hwy 140, twice on Hwy 49 and Crane Valley Road.

Stage 5: Visalia to Paso Robles (Thursday, Feb. 19)
Start Time: 10 a.m.
Start Location: Intersection of Aceqia Ave. and Church St. in Visalia
Finish Location: Intersection of Spring St. and 11th St. in Paso Robles

A new course, stage 5 will progress 130 miles — the longest of thee race — and begin with a neutral start of parade laps through Visalia’s downtown. The field wile progress for 100 miles on vast stretch of flat roads in the San Joaquin Valley. Winding back to the coast, the route will pass vast cattle ranches and farms and will include two mid-stage sprints en route to the finish in Paso Robles.

Stage 6: Solvang Individual Time Trial (Friday, Feb. 20)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Intersection of Mission Drive and 1st St.
Finish Location: Copenhagen Dr.

The 15-mile individual route usually determines the rider who will likely ride to the overall race victory, as Levi Leipheimer did in dominating fashion last year.

Stage 7: Santa Clarita to Pasadena (Saturday, Feb. 21)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Town Center Drive in Santa Clarita
Finish Location: West Drive, alongside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena

The first 25 miles of stage 7 include a gradual climb from Santa Clarita, through Acton, to the intersection of Angeles Forest Road. The route continues  to the second highest elevation in race history, Millcreek Summit (4,906 ft.). Descending with a 15-mile run to Angeles Crest Highway, the route begins a fast plunge to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. After more than 65 miles from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, the field will complete the stage with five, five-mile laps surrounding the Rose Bowl.

Stage 8: Rancho Bernardo to Escondido (Sunday, Feb. 22)
Start Time: Noon
Start Location: Bernardo Center Dr. in Rancho Bernardo
Finish Location: Intersection of Grand Ave. and Broadway in Escondido

With four climbs, including the highest point ever reached in the event, cyclists will climb to Palomar Mountain (5,123 ft.).  At 11.7 miles, a seven percent average grade, 4,200 feet of climbing and 21 switchbacks, Palomar Mountain will add a new finishing component to the overall title contenders.

The Life & Times Of An Epileptic Cycling Champion

I first reported on women’s cycling about 20 years ago.  It was the best of times for the sport on the road, on the track and in the dirt.

Cycling ChampionJeannie Longo of France, one of the greatest athletes in history, was in her prime and American riders like Inga Thompson, Connie Paraskevin-Young, Karen Bliss, Ruthie Matthes, Rebecca Twigg and Julia Furtado rode impressively and unheralded in their respective specialties.

It was during same time frame, I first met Marion Clignet. She was outspoken, funny and there was a sparkle in her eyes — like she knew something the rest of us didn’t.

Marion was overweight and she had epilepsy. She was shunned by the U.S. Cycling Federation and she spoke her mind about her disagreements with the country’s cycling governing body. She worked hard to succeed in cycling, and I liked her immediately.

I don’t Marion Clignet well. She retired in 2004 and lives in France where her parents were born and raised. But we’ve e-mailed from time to time through the years and she recently sent me a copy of her autobiography, Tenacious.

The book is a wondrous tale of Clignet’s journey in cycling and in life. And it’s about a great athlete you may have never of and how she rode her bike to six world titles, two Olympic medals, and numerous French and U.S. National titles.

Written with Benjamin Hovey, a former American’s Cup yachtsman who’s also an epileptic, the 216-page book, published last October, includes 12 easy-to-read chapters. The volume recounts Marion’s early years on the bike as a college student at the University of Maryland to her eventual disappointment in not qualifying for her fourth Summer Olympics in 2004.

Along the way, Clignet provides the reader with an interesting tale of life in the peloton of women’s cycling and in the even smaller niche of women’s track cycling. It details her battle with weight, epilepsy and her fierce track competitions against Longo, the winning cyclist — male or female — in history. The book also provides an insight into a woman torn between two countries, and it honestly portrays her insecurities and her opinions about those in cycling she believes did her wrong.

As examples:

In chapter 4, entitled “A Thirty-Pound Piece of Junk” Clignet writes:

“I had become more dependent on my bike. It was my only mode of transportation, and it was a source of revenue for me as a courier during the summer months.  But I also discovered that the bike was becoming even more meaningful in less tangible ways as each day came and went.

“Riding allowed me to regain the independence I had lost with the revocation of my driver’s license, and it gave me a new sense of freedom and self-confidence. I knew I could rely on my legs and myself.”

In chapter 7, “Picking Up The Pieces,” Clignet offers: “At age 26, I was still wrestling with some of the identity problems of my youth. In terms of my heritage, I didn’t know if I was supposed to be predominantly French or American. I was caught between two cultures, unsure I where I fit it. I continued to feel like an outsider who was different from others.”

Marion forwarded a copy of the book signed: “James! This should bring back a few memories. Hope to see you in France.”

Yes, the book certainly has brought back memories. It’s also a fine memoir written by a tenacious woman and a role model for anyone with a goal — on or off the bike.

Published by Expansion Scientifique Francaise (ISBN 2-7046-1686-8), Tenacious is available via the web site: www.fondation-epilepsie.fr.

Follow the link to the area entitled actualities. All proceeds will go toward epilepsy research. 

 

The Honor Of Being Last In The Tour de France

(This article originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee on July 15, 2005. It was revised on July 12, 2007.)

The French sporting public likes compatriot champions. They also cheer for any countrymen in the Tour de France — even if he has no chance of winning but displays perseverance.

A French rider hasn’t claimed the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985, so sometimes fans resort to etching favorite former riders’ names in chalk on race roads.

On other occasions, fans wave huge handmade signs on mountaintops for retired French riders as if their ghosts are still in the race.

Tour de FranceWith nearly equal fervor, enthusiasts who camp for days in the Alps and Pyrenees to watch Tour de France riders pass in a flash, appreciate the underdog.

Nothing demonstrates this more than the tradition of the lanterne rouge or red lantern. It’s the honor given to the rider who finishes in last place in the overall Tour de France standings.

Named after the red lantern on the caboose of a train, the lanterne rouge honor began in the first Tour de France in 1903.

It’s never been an official designation, but the last-place cyclist receives his share of admiration.

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.”

Yet the red lantern is still a revered Tour accomplishment.

As the race advances into the Alps and Pyrenees and the across wind-whipped countryside, riders at the bottom of the overall standings face a difficult challenge.

Should they give up and hope for a better race next time or push themselves to an extreme to remain within the varying time limits of each subsequent stage with a goal of finishing last?

Tour de FranceIn some instances, riders can still receive appearance money to ride in post-Tour criteriums.

“I had a Belgium teammate and he was the last (rider in the Tour), but he didn’t get anything,” said Belgian rider Mario Aerts said during the 2005 Tour de France. “But maybe he would have if he were a French guy.”

French rider Jimmy Casper, a veteran Tour de France rider who also won more than two-dozen races in his career, captured the lanterne rouge honor twice. On the final day of the race in Paris, Casper has capitalized on his status and carried a small red lantern for the purpose of seeking publicity and post-Tour business opportunities.

A rider is also the current red latern in this year’s Tour de France. Still riding in the first week of the race, Geoffrey Lequatre of Cofidis was more than 44 minutes behind race leader Fabian Cancellara.

And the field had yet to even encounter and of the race’s seriously difficult mountain passes in the Alps or Pyrenees.

Some Tour de France riders would rather not hear or discuss the red lantern.

“I don’t care to think about that,” said Italian rider Gianluca Bortolami. “There are always plenty of guys behind me.”

Michael Boogerd, the Dutch rider and several-time Tour stage winner, commented he has little time for such trivial concern. He’d rather concern himself trying to compete against riders vying for the overall title.

Conversely, Spanish rider Iker Flores had plenty of concern. He was the Tour’s lanterne rouge for several days during the 2005 race.

Riding on the Euskaltel team comprised of Basque cyclists, Flores entered the second race weekend trailing race leader Lance Armstrong by 2 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds.

With the continuing difficult climbs of the Pyrenees looming, Flores was nearly 6 1/2 minutes behind the next-to-last rider. And while he retained his lanterne rouge status, Flores achieved increased fan support.

Throngs of Basque fans raucously the rider and his countrymen as they faced the challenges of the Pyrenees. The Basque are almost as passionate about the Tour de France as the French, whether their riders are in first or last place.

Chad Gerlach: Former Pro Cyclist, Lance Armstrong Teammate, Subject Of Pending A&E Network Program, Intervention

Chad Gerlach once climbed mountains with the best cyclists in the world and rode as a teammate of Lance Armstrong. Gerlach’s athletic acclaim is long gone, but he’s about return to a national spotlight no one seeks.

The winner of nearly 100 career races will be the subject beginning Monday night, June 16 on the Arts & Entertainment Network program, Intervention.

The show will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Time and again Tuesday, June 17 at 1 a.m. Eastern Time.

The program is exactly what its name implies, a television show that serves as intervention of someone in the spiral of drug and or alcohol abuse.

Gerlach, 34, who was raised in West Sacramento but now lives in a recovery facility in Auburn, Calif., left cycling in 2002 and lived for five years homeless and in despair in downtown Sacramento.

Few doubted Gerlach had the talent for a successful career at the top level of the sport. He never rode in a grand tour like the Tour de France, but his nine-year pro career took him around the globe.

He won regional events like the Nevada City Classic and he won stages in diverse events like the Tour of China and Tour of Langkawi. He was a U.S. Postal Service teammate of Armstrong in 1996, but was dismissed for “personality conflicts.” Gerlach also rode with high-budget Italian squads and second-tier U.S.-based squads. Many of his coaches gave up, called the talented rider uncoachable.

But throughout his youth soccer tenure and as pro cyclist Gerlach always found difficulty. His tale nts were often overshadowed by an easily triggered temper.

According to the A&E; Network’s description of the pending show, Gerlach was sent to juvenile hall as a teenager for a felony arrest.

But at age 15, Gerlach’s father introduced his son to cycling. The young Gerlach advanced through junior programs and then onto the Olympic development program in Colorado with riders like Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner; Tyler Hamilton, the reigning Olympic time trial gold medalist; and many time Tour de France finisher Bobby Julich, the long-time veteran now in his last pro season.

Gerlach had superior overall skills. He could climb with many of the sport’s best and held his own in time trials and sprints. But Gerlach was often an individual in a team sport. He had a temper and that, in part, led to his nomadic journey. He rode for nearly a dozen teams in a nine-year pro career that ended in 2002 with the Sierra Nevada squad based in Northern California.

In his final season, Gerlach finished 10th in a rich one-day circuit race in New York that also included Armstrong as its marquee attraction.

Gerlach’s erratic temper was well-known. He once punched Lance Armstrong at the Olympic training camp. And by the time he left cycling, he’d been dismissed by nearly everyone in the sport.

“It’s just amazing,” said Chad’s father Peter Gerlach. “Chad was out there for five years. He was smart to get by on the streets. He had a broken ankle and was stabbed a couple of times, but he survived.”

Gerlach’s eventual intervention occurred via a friend, who had watched an episode of the show, now in its fourth season, and contacted its producers. Gerlach’s episode, simply called “Chad,” was filmed during more than a week in downtown Sacramento last February.

Members of Gerlach’s family and several pro cyclists are also featured in the program.

Gerlach’s father often accompanied his son to races, and some observers felt the elder Gerlach pushed his son too hard to succeed.

“I enabled my son, yes,” said the emotional elder Gerlach. “Chad was diagnosed at age four for five with ADD or ADHD; he’s just always had this tremendous energy. But I had finally given up; he’s as strong-headed as anyone on my side of the family.”

Not long after his departure from the sport, Gerlach was living on Sacramento streets, often in back alleys behind gas stations and seedy buildings. He panhandled, turned to drugs and resisted communication and repeated attempts at help from his family. The younger Gerlach sold his cycling equipment for money; his father kept his son’s medals is a shoebox.

In recent times, Gerlach has visited Sacramento-area bike shops and he’s reacquainted with area cyclists who are now taking the troubled cyclist on Northern California training rides. Via the assistance of a former girlfriend, Gerlach, who attended Rio Americano High School and has a GED certificate, has taken courses and plans to enroll in Sierra Junior College in Rocklin, Calif., this fall.