The Red Lantern

This weekend sees the start of the cycling calendar’s most prestigious bicycle race.  The Tour de France is a stage race over three weeks that combines time trials, sprint finishes, and my favourite, racing in the mountains.  It includes aspects of rivals collaborating in the peleton ( the big group of riders all riding together ), junior riders making sacrifices for their teams’ star riders, and intense, and often fractious rivalries, being played out during bunch sprints towards the finish line after racing for well over a hundred kilometres.  The winner of the stage, the best sprinter, the best climber are feted on the podium at the end of the days’ exertions.  Thousands of euros are at stake each day for riders if they can finish first in the various race classifications.

But what of the rider who crosses the finish line last?  First of all it’s worth remembering that the race rules stipulate that anyone finishing outside the time cut-off for finishing the day’s stage is automatically disqualified, and leaves the race.  This means that sprinters who struggle in the mountains, for example, have to ride for their lives to stay in the race for the stages which suit them later on.

But someone has to come last, and perversely for a race there is a certain amount of honour, and prize money, attached to the rider who finishes the race in last place.  The rider is known as the Red Lantern.

Mental health problems have their rewards, too.  It didn’t seem like it at the time, but when I was at my lowest ebb there were certain things that I gained that I would not have had I been free of depression.  I gave up a very stressful job, doing that put an end to a very draining daily commute (two hours each way).  Being off work for three years meant that I was able to play a much bigger role in raising my children – a wonderful and enriching experience that I would have missed had I continued to leave the house before 7a.m., only returning 12 hours later.  When I did finally go back to work in 2005 it was part-time, and local.  It also meant a  twenty-minute bike ride to my new office – and I wasn’t in charge.

Surely there are easier ways to achieve what we want?  The trouble is that clear thinking, strategic planning, strategizing, call it what you will, is well-nigh impossible when depression distorts the view and renders my mind into nothing more than so much mashed potato.

Over recent weeks and months I have come to realise that, in cycling terms it’s a lot easier to identify and pursue my goals if I’m riding in the peleton, so to speak.  if I’m in the thick of it.  There may not be much room for manoeuvre, you may have to keep your pedalling in sync with other riders – rivals – but for all that you will keep moving forward and when a gap in the crowd of riders does appear you will be in a position to take advantage of it, maybe benefit from riding in the slipstream of others for a while, and all the time with a clearer view of the road ahead.


Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours
of despair overcome me, may I
Not forget the strength
that comforted me in the
desolation of other times. May I
still remeber the bright hours that found me walking
over the silent hills of my
childhood, or dreaming on the
margin of the quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the
tempests of the changing years.

Spare me from bitterness
and from the sharp passions of
unguarded moments. May
I not forget that poverty and
riches are of the spirit.

Though the world know me not,
may my thoughts and actions
be such as shall keep me friendly
with myself. Lift my eyes
from the earth, and let me not
forget the uses of the stars.

Forbid that I should judge others
lest I condemn myself.

Let me not follow the clamour of
the world, but walk calmly
in my path. Give me few friends
who will love me for what
I am; and keep ever burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope. And
though age and infirmity overtake
me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful
for life, and for time’s olden
memories that are good and
sweet; and may the evening’s
twilight find me gentle still

Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)

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One Response to The Red Lantern

  1. Caroline says:

    Nicolas-it is so good to see you back in the saddle and writing as well as ever. It is also heartening to read about your recovery and it’s good to know that people can and do get better even though it may take some time. Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work. Caroline


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