Yellow Jersey Press, London, £16.99) » Order at the discounted price of £13.99 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France by Max Leonard, book review: Why finishing last can be a winning move

In the 1999 Tour de France, the Frenchman Jacky Durand won the award for the 'most combative rider', presented to the man who had ridden the race in the most aggressive, attacking style. A man with the panache that cycling fans crave.

He also finished flat last in the overall standings. Indeed, on one of the last road stages, after a series of attacks had come to nothing, he backed off and almost stopped. He let the race vanish up the road, and deliberately eased himself down the ranking to the very bottom.

Cycling is a sport that thrives on stories rather than on statistics. The problem for its historians is that the supply of new stories is in much less lavish supply than they would like. This is especially so when it comes to the Tour de France, which has been almost mined out.

Hence the brilliant simplicity of Max Leonard's Lanterne Rouge. It's a history of those who finished last, the lanternes rouges who took their name from the red lamp that used to swing on the last carriage of a train.

Their stories are rarely about anything as simple as failure. Only a handful of Tour riders are there to try to win. The rest are there to do other things – to help their team leaders, to chase individual stage wins, and above all to gain publicity for their sponsors. A man who ended up at the back of the race could be assured of the latter, as well as increasing his market value in the post-Tour exhibition races.

There was nothing but logic, then, in Durand's riding. He was a hero to French fans for his all-or-nothing style, and how better to underline it than with nothing?

Other lanternes rouges have been less willing. In the 1997 Tour, at the very height of doping in professional cycling, another Frenchman, Philippe Gaumont, tried an experimental drugs regime. It was a disaster. He gained a great deal of weight, lost a great deal of strength, and spent three weeks clinging on to the coat tails of the race.

The stories of the lanternes rouges that Leonard picks out have real value, because the race's rear view can tell you much more than the angle we're all familiar with. Most fans have heard all about Eddy Merckx's 1969 Tour – the record-winning margin, the glorious Alpine attacks, the unprecedented and unrepeated royal flush of overall, points and climbers' classifications. But if you want to see to the depths of Merckx's competitive drive, you need to know about his fury when that year's lanterne rouge beat him on just one stage of the race.

Leonard is quite right when he says: 'There's more to sport than winning and losing.' He might have added that if you want to properly understand either, you have to understand both. And this very enjoyable book will help you do just that.

Michael Hutchinson's new book, 'Faster: the Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World's Fastest Cyclists', is published by Bloomsbury, £12.99

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future