MONTLUCON, France — Can you blame a guy for accepting a little free help? French rider Jimmy Casper of the La Francaise des Jeux team has brought up the rear of the Tour de France for much of the race, a distinction recognized by the honorary title of "red light."
As of Thursday, he remained in 145th and last place, trailing overall leader Lance Armstrong by almost four hours.
"Being the last overall is something special," said Casper, who has dealt with his situation in good humor and even has threatened to mount a small lantern on his bike for the last stage in Paris. "It's better than being 130th or 135th. Obviously, I didn't do it on purpose, but I figured I'd be close. Luck decided it."
Spectators understandably have taken pity on Casper, and some of them have gone so far as to give him a little push. Even though it's not his fault--fans routinely rush into the non-barricaded parts of the course to run alongside or behind their heroes--it violates one clause of the Tour's lengthy and nuanced Rules of the Road.
Casper's helpers may have bought him a little respite on the uphill stretches, but they've cost him too. In one stage alone, he was fined $348 for 30 separate offenses.
Thousands of dollars in fines have been assessed against riders and coaches for committing various sins.
Among the more common tickets written:
* Hanging on when a coach extends his arm outside a passing team car to give the rider a water bottle: $29 for the rider, $116 for the coach.
* Urinating in front of spectators: $29.
* Being supplied with food outside the designated feed zone: $29 for riders, $116 for coaches.
* Granting an interview to TV reporters in cars or motorcycles in the last 12.4 miles of any stage: $116 for coaches only.
Belgian rider Serge Baguet won Thursday's 120.28-mile stage, which started in Brive-la-Gaillarde. Baguet edged Jakob Piil of Denmark in the final sprint.
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Race at a Glance
A look at Thursday's 17th stage:
* Stage: 120.3 miles from Brive-la-Gaillarde to Montlucon in central France.
* Winner: Serge Baguet of Belgium in 4 hours 13 minutes 36 seconds.
* How others fared: Two-time defending champion Lance Armstrong was 32nd, finishing with the main pack 13 seconds behind Baguet. He kept the leader's yellow jersey and maintained a lead of 5:05 over Germany's Jan Ullrich.
* Quote of the day: "It took a lot of sacrifice. Only my wife knows what it meant to come back."--Baguet, on his comeback after a three-year break from professional cycling.
* Next stage: Today's stage is a 37.82-mile individual time trial from Montlucon to St. Amand-Montrond.