Le Ride

The 1928 Tour de France was one of the toughest on record. The route circled the whole of France (no plane transfers in those days), was 3340 miles in length – much of it on gravelled roads – and of the 168 riders who started, only 41 finished. It was also notable for the participation of a team of riders from Australia and New Zealand – testing their prowess against the best riders in the world and with little prospect of success. Film-maker and keen cyclist Phil Keoghan decided to ride the whole route, following the exact same roads as much as still possible, on the same steel bikes that would have been used at the time, weighing twice as much as a modern bicycle, with rudimentary brakes and a single gear. Le Ride is the film he has made of the endeavour and it is a triumph. Phil and his ride partner Ben are supported by a small team including a cameraman who takes most of his film from a motor-cycle. Some of the stages are almost impossibly brutal – over 200 miles – and they cross the Pyrenees from west to east in 2 stages over 2 days – a trek that took me 6 days of tough riding. The film follows their journey with stunning images – some filmed from a drone – and you really feel the pain and struggle that it must have entailed. You feel every weary pedal stroke as they grind up the Tourmalet, the Aubisque and the Galibier and your heart is in your mouth as they descend these mountain passes with brakes that are barely effective. The film is interweaved with film of the 1928 tour and of the four Antipodeans – Harry Watson, Hubert Opperman, Ernest Bainbridge and Percy Osborn, who, despite all the odds and expectations, numerous punctures, crashes and disasters, all finished the tour. Keoghan’s achievement is to make a film which is informative, interesting, funny, uplifting, triumphant and moving in equal measure. This was no massive undertaking with multiple support vehicles but a small scale endeavour – he and Ben did it because they wanted to push themselves, to see if it could be done. Remarkably, they finish the journey without a single puncture and without any crashes – although it almost ends on their first day when Phil’s ancient stem breaks and he is forced to wrap it first with gaffer tape and then cannibalise some of the camera equipment to hold it together, until they can get it welded back together. Their journey ends at the site of the iconic Paris velodrome, the Parc des Princes which no longer exists. They cross a makeshift finish line, noticeably thinner and greyer, greeted by the small crew and their families. The film ends with descriptions of the subsequent lives of the 4 Antipodeans – they all lived into their 90s, tribute perhaps to the beneficial effects of cycling on the body. I saw the film at a ‘demand screening’ – if you see it advertised, catch it if you can – it is superb.    

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