Lanterne Rouge

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Canadian Champion Road Cyclist Svein Tuft winning silver at the World Championships in 2008 (after flatting on the course)



Photo Credit: One-Fat-Man via Compfight cc

A friend once said to me, “I never expect much of anything. That way, I am never disappointed.”

It’s an odd way to live.  I would sooner set my sights very high, and learn to get over any hint of disappointment.

Reflecting on that makes me think about the reaction of most Canadians to sports.  As the mom of an elite athlete for more than a decade, I know how poorly Canadians support their athletes.  Many of my friends will pay hundreds of dollars to see a professional hockey game. This is more than most national level athletes are paid to live on for a full month. Yet, when the Olympics arrive, we expect medals!

When my son (Kyle Fry) was Mountain Bike racing, we travelled and raced with courageous, committed and talented athletes. Some sacrificed the cost of a hair cut to pay for a race entry.  They lived day to day, travelling across the nation five to a car, sleeping on friendly couches and getting a free meal when they could.


Photo Credit: OttoKristensen via Compfight cc

When Kyle switched to road racing, Svein Tuft became a model of what young riders could aspire too.  Tough, gritty, vehemently anti-doping, and fast! We watched Svein win numerous national titles, inspire Canadians with his 7th place finish in the ITT at the 2008 Olympics and his 2nd place finish at Worlds in 2008 – a remarkable finish considering Canada’s past history in the sport.

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Team Ontario prepares for the Team Time Trial at the Junior World Cup.

That brings us to this year’s Tour de France.  We were so pleased to hear that Svein would finally have an opportunity to ride in the 2013 Tour.  We celebrated when he helped his team win the TTT, and when Svein spoke in public about his thrill in working to help his team place so well, we knew it was truly from the heart.

Svein had an amazing 6th place finish in the ITT.  He fought his way through crashes, over mountains, and he never gave up.  He finished the Tour de France dead last – but he finished.

In cycling, finishing dead last is respectful, because you did not give up.  Cyclists call this the “lanterne rouge”.

Those who gave up did not finish, not even in last place.

Lanterne Rouge
from Wikipedia

How will the media spin this? How many jokes will Canadians make about finishing last? I hope that instead, Canadians take the time to learn about who Svein Tuft is, what he has accomplished, what he stands for, and what an powerful role model he is for our young cyclists.

I ask how many Canadians have ever finished the Tour, drug-free?

Svein Tuft is a strong, courageous man who makes me feel proud to be a Canadian.

Athletes like Svein Tuft that have earned our respect and our support.  We can learn a great deal from his character and his courage.

Update: Svein Tuft’s post-Tour interview with Canadian Cyclist:

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