A new film has been released retracing the exploits of the first English-speaking team to compete in the Tour de France.
In 1928, New Zealander Harry Watson and three Australian cyclists – Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborne and Ernie Bainbridge – lined up at the start of the race against experienced European professionals. Never having raced in Europe before, French journalists predicted that they wouldn’t make it to the finish in Paris.
The 1928 Tour was 5,377 kilometres long in 1928, with most of it on unsealed roads. To add to the difficulty, the riders used heavy, fixed wheel bicycles.
There were 22 stages, ranging from 119 kilometres to 387 kilometres. Of the 168 starters, only 41 finished. Despite the predictions from the French media, three of the four riders from the team finished. Opperman finished in a fine 18th place, 8 1/2 hours behind winner Nicolas Frantz. Watson finished in 28th position with Osborne in 38th.
The new film called Le Ride follows New Zealand broadcaster Phil Keoghan who along with his friend Ben Cornell decided to recreate the 1928 Tour route.
They ride an average of 240-kilometres a day for 26 days, traversing both the Pyrenees mountains and the Western Alps, on original vintage steel bikes with no gears and marginal brakes.
“That tour was hell on wheels. The roads were all unsealed and Harry and his co-riders were the talk of the competition. They got a standing ovation as they crossed the finish line! Harry was a champion, yet very few people in New Zealand know his remarkable story. It’s crazy – if he was an All Black, he’d be a legend,” says Phil.