I recently saw promotions for a new documentary about a team participating in the 1928 Tour de France. Le Ride is a film by Phil Keoghan (the host of the Amazing Race television show), that tries to recreate the route ridden by the four-man team from Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to see the film so was happy when my cycling club sent notice of a viewing in the area.
I’ll share some highlights of the film without giving away too much (most of it follows well-documented history of the 1928 event and teams anyway). The film follows New Zealander Harry Watson and his Australian teammates, Ernie Bainbridge, Percy Osborne and Sir Hubert Opperman, on their journey to this great race. Yes, this team only had four riders compared to other teams of 10 (I already felt tired for them upon learning this). They were the first English-speaking team to participate in the Tour.
Phil did much research on the race and the team, providing interesting insight into the bikes of that period, bike racing, the Tour de France and France in general. I loved watching the many people he met during his research and learning fascinating facts.
It seemed crazy that he, and his friend, Ben, were going to ride circa 1928 bikes through France, high into the mountains! Especially after being used to the brakes, design, handling and comfort of today’s bikes. These vintage bikes were steel frames with no gears. No shifting during hill climbs or descents. No carbon frame or shocks. They did use some modern day equipment, such as cycling clothing and helmets, which was smart.
As you may imagine, today’s France is much different than 1928 France. The road system is paved, more expansive and much busier. Some of the route no longer exists. Keep in mind that today’s Tour de France is approximately 2,000 miles; in 1928, the race was over 3,300 miles in 29 days. Yikes! The race back then was meant to eliminate riders, and it did – 164 riders started, 41 finished. It was quite stunning to learn that the cyclists rode more than 100, sometimes 200 miles in a day with climbs of 10,000-20,000 feet. They sometimes biked up to 20 hours in a day, starting at midnight or before dawn. And I thought biking RAGBRAI through Iowa was a physical challenge!
I can’t tell you how many times my mouth dropped open in surprise, awe or disbelief. I’m already in awe of the grueling physical, mental and emotional challenges that cyclists today master to participate in the Tour de France and other rides. But learning about the riders in 1928? Total respect and awe. My leg with the titanium rod seriously started aching as I thought of the physical challenges facing these riders (I know, I have a hard time turning off the empathy in me)!
At the end of the film, they showed a picture of the four Australian cyclists before the Tour began and then at the end of the Tour. Have you ever seen images of our U.S. presidents before they start their presidency? And again after? You usually note physical changes, aging and stress/worry lines after these challenging years. Well these notable changes appeared in the riders in less than a month!
A few of my favorite highlights:
- Amazingly beautiful scenery captured with great filming skills.
- The camaraderie between the crew was evident. I often laughed.
- I loved seeing all the towns they visited. I would have loved to be there, meeting residents and taking in the different areas, cultures and experiences.
- Learning so much about the evolution of cycling over the decades.
- I am motivated to someday attend the Tour de France.
The downside to the movie? I’m so anxious to ride my own road bike outside again in warm, sunny weather! I look forward to watching this film again.