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Trio of finishers in Tour de France bodes well for Canadian cycling

Svein Tuft of Canada, the last rider in the overall standings know as "Lanterne Rouge" in French, or Red Lantern, is seen in Annecy-Semnoz, France, Saturday July 20 2013.

Laurent Cipriani/AP

It was a milestone year for Canada at the Tour de France, with three Canadians competing and all three crossing the finish line after 21 days and 133.5 kilometres of racing through the French countryside.

The top Canadian, Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, took 70th place despite a few cracked ribs from a crash on the fifth day. It was Mr. Hesjedal's sixth appearance in cycling's marquee event.

The two other Canadians were both racing in the Tour de France for the first time. David Veilleux of Cap-Rouge, Que., took 123rd place in the final standings. Svein Tuft of Langley, B.C., entered as the oldest Tour de France rookie ever, at 36. He finished in 169th place, earning the Lanterne Rouge, the quirky distinction given to the rider who finishes last.

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Mr. Tuft received a fair amount of attention before the race, given his relatively late start in competitive cycling and a reputation as a "mountain man" who spent his youth exploring B.C.'s steep back-country roads, hauling a heavy camping trailer behind his bike. A 2009 New York Times profile referred to him as "a barrel-chested woodsman with Paul Bunyan biceps."

"Svein is a workhorse," said Jacques Landry, Cycling Canada's director of high performance. He said Mr. Tuft's late finish was because he did so much sprinting for his team in the early stages of the race. "Once he's done his share of the work, he conserves his energy to the next stage."

Watch: Froome pedals to Tour de France crown

Mr. Tuft's team, Orica-Greenedge, won the team time trials in the fourth stage thanks in part to Mr. Tuft's efforts.

The Lanterne Rouge, named after the red lantern that used to hang from the rear caboose of a train, gained notoriety when its "winners" started scoring lucrative appearances. Tour de France officials have discouraged giving publicity to the position, even implementing rules to eliminate last place riders during the latter stages of the race, making the Lanterne Rouge more difficult to achieve.

"I've heard stories where guys actually compete to be the last one, but it takes quite a bit of calculation," Mr. Landry said with a laugh. "But I'm sure that wasn't Svein's objective."

Mr. Landry said having three Canadians in the race was significant, and with six Canadians qualified to race on the World Tour Circuit, he was hopeful even more will make Tour de France appearances in the coming years.

"When you look at the guys that are in there, they would have started racing competitively about 10, 15 years ago. It's a long process," Mr. Landry said. "You really have to build it up and you have to be patient. My hat's off to these guys."

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