VANCOUVER - A last-place finish at this summer's Tour de France didn't faze Svein Tuft one bit.
The Canadian rider wound up 169th — bottom of the pack for cyclists who finished the famed race — but was instrumental in helping his Orica-Greenedge team to a surprise stage victory and four days of subsequent racing that saw two teammates wear the leader's yellow jersey.
The soft-spoken Tuft, a native of Langley, B.C., is more than happy to have the spotlight shine elsewhere.
"That's the beauty of sport and competition," the 36-year-old said this week at a charity event in Vancouver. "Where I get my satisfaction is ... some of your best days are when you're in last place or you come in 20 minutes down, but you've done and amazing amount of work for the team and maybe your teammates won because of that."
They did just that — especially early on — during the 100th running of race, which covered a total distance of 3,404 kilometres.
Orica-Greenedge won the 25-kilometre Stage 4 team time trial in Nice, with riders Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey then holding the yellow jersey for four days until eventual winner Chris Froome took command after Stage 8.
"I think we exceeded with what we thought we could do with guys that we had," said Tuft. "We never had that expectation and the beautiful part of that is we had to work very hard to protect the jersey but after that there was no pressure."
Tuft's job with the team is simple — do the grunt work, which includes leading the pack to create a headwind for his teammate.
"Results, as far as looking at the paper at the end of the day, it means nothing to me," said Tuft, who finished almost 4 1/2 hours back of Froome in the final standings. "When you've been around the sport for a long time, you know there's a lot more things going on than that.
"But people who follow the Tour and maybe don't know the ins and outs of cycling, they would be more like, 'Oh, last place,' and not really understand what that represents."
Hard work is nothing new to Tuft, who got into racing later than most of his peers. He spent a good part of his youth with a trailer hooked up to his bike traversing the vast and rugged back country of British Columbia with his dog.
"I really knew nothing about the sport of cycling or road racing," said Tuft. "I never would have believed anyone if they'd told me that's what I'd be doing 10-15 years later.
"Just doing those trips and being exposed to how free you can travel on a bike — it got me really hooked on just biking. I've always had that mentality of trying to push myself, so it just suited me really well."
At 36, Tuft was believed to be the oldest rookie to participate at a Tour de France since the Second World War.
More used to quiet wilderness, he said life during cycling's most famous race isn't enjoyable.
"It's just too much. Any given day ... there's so many people on the side of the road screaming at you and you're kind of in pain," said Tuft. "You're dehydrated, you're pushing your body up this mountain ... in the most perfect of conditions it would still be a highly stressful day. Then you add on millions of crazy people screaming..."
Tuft is signed on for another two years with Orica-Greenedge and will begin training again in a few weeks. The focus during the 2014 season will be on the Giro d'Italia in the spring and then, of course, the Tour.
But Tuft doesn't envision his role on the team changing any time soon, adding bluntly: "At a certain point in cycling you know where you fit and my job is really helping guys win."
- Svein Tuft
- Tour de France