Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Phil Keoghan.
The Tour de France is one of the world’s great sporting events, and a real test of endurance, stamina and determination. The 1928 Tour was one of the most gruelling in the event’s history, and it was a real war of attrition as only 41 of the 161 riders who started the race actually reached the finish line. But the 1928 race was also memorable because it was the first time that an English-speaking team participated. The team came from Australia and New Zealand, but were undermanned and lacked the support staff that the other teams had. The team was led by legendary Australian cyclist Hubert Opperman, and consisted of Ernie Bainbridge, Percy Osborne, and New Zealand rider Harry Watson. They were considered underdogs in the event, but their persistence, determination, courage to overcome adversity eventually won them lots of admirers amongst the fellow racers and spectators alike. Theirs is an inspirational story, but little is known about their achievements.
Eighty-five years later, cycling enthusiast Phil Keoghan, who is better known as the host of the reality tv series The Amazing Race, set out to try and replicate this feat, following the route of the 1928 tour. The pair travelled the 3500-mile journey, traversing France and even travelling through the Pyrenees over treacherous mountain passes. They were accompanied by Keoghan’s father, who drove the support vehicle, and his wife Louise, who photographed the journey for this documentary. But Keoghan soon realised that this great adventure may also turn out to be a great folly. They were sometimes forced to ride 20 hours a day to try and complete the various stages.
Not only that, but he and his friend Ben Cornell rode authentic bicycles from the era, which they had tracked down. Using these vintage bikes was supposed to make the journey as authentic as possible. But they soon found that these bikes were cumbersome with no gears and brakes that were hard to operate. And many of the roads that the original Tour followed no longer exist. Many of the roads have become freeways on which bikes are not permitted, and many are in very poor condition. Many of the towns have expanded as well, which meant that Keoghan and Cornell had to sometimes navigate trickier options. They even briefly stop at a WWI memorial in a village that pays homage to New Zealand troops who liberated their town nearly a century earlier. A number of curious French citizens offer advice and essential equipment to help our heroic duo complete their epic journey.
Le Ride is part adventure story, part documentary, part video diary and part history. Keoghan has incorporated some rare archival footage of the 1928 Tour de France into the film, which draws a nice visual contrast for audiences so they can compare the conditions. Extracts from Opperman’s diary are read to give us some insights into his thoughts during the gruelling 22-day event.
Keoghan narrates the whole thing with the same enthusiasm as he used on his tv series. But the film looks visually stunning, and there is some beautiful cinematography that captures the scenic French locations.
Le Ride is an extraordinary tale of grit, will power and stamina and a story of courageous underdogs. A brief coda tells us of what became of the four riders following the 1928 Tour. The story of the 1928 Tour de France is interesting and fascinating on its own, and is a story that deserves a feature documentary.