Yesterday, as we made our way to New Zealand to escape the Canadian winter, I flipped through the list of inflight entertainment and noticed a film, Le Ride, the cover art depicting cyclists juxtaposed against the Eiffel Tower.
The film is a documentary of the first team of Australasians to compete in the Tour de France, in 1928.
New Zealander Phil Keoghan widely known as the host of The Amazing Race, and his friend Ben Cornell re-enact this epic journey of 22 stages over 26 days and 3403 miles, essentially circumnavigating France. (Keoghan also earns writing and directing credits on the film.)
Keoghan and Cornell’s goal was to follow the exact route and distances, as much as 240 miles in a single day, as best they could, given the changes in the highways in the intervening years. They rode 1928 steel, single-geared bicycles like those which were used in the original race. The bikes weighed twice the weight of bicycles typically used in current racing. Technical limitations of the braking systems of the bicycles made for nerve-testing descents. Wearing vintage gear including helmets, which look not unlike pith helmets, goggles, and leather cycling shoes, they make quite a curious and humorous-looking pair.
The film gives new life to a remarkable piece of cycling history. The original team consisted of New Zealander Harry Watson and Australians Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn, and Ernest Bainbridge, who were chided by the media in their day as being ill-prepared and ill-equipped to compete in cycling’s most grueling test. With their team of four riders (typical teams consisted of ten), it was expected that they wouldn’t last many days into the race. In spite of, or perhaps because of, this cynicism, three of the four riders completed the race, finishing 17th, 28th and 38th. (Bainbridge succumbing to injuries, failed to complete the race). Considering that only 41 riders of the original complement of 162 completed the race, this feat is even more exceptional. (Have a look at the Wikipedia entry on the 1928 Tour de France if you are keen to know more.)
The film creatively intertwines historical film footage and photographs with accompanying narratives to bring the story to life. Most striking to me were the road conditions they endured. Many miles of arduous climbs through the Pyrenees and the Alps were made on unsealed, gravel roads. It almost makes current Tour De France riders with their high-tech bikes and support teams look like sissies!
The film made its debut in July 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city with significance to both Keoghan and Watson and will have limited release in theaters in January 2017. In the meantime, watch the film trailer on YouTube.
It’s a compelling piece of sports history, engagingly portrayed in this film. Even for people that aren’t cycling enthusiasts, this film offers insight into the grit and perseverance of these amazing athletes.