The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan attempts to retrace the steps of New Zealander Harry Watson and his four man Tour de France team in Le Ride. Competing in the 1920 Tour de France, one of the toughest years in the sport’s history, Watson and three Australians (Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn, Ernest Bainbridge) had no idea of the hardships they were about to face.
Just prior to the start of the race they discovered that the team would be entering as a foursome rather than a group of ten like originally planned. Due to sponsorship issues, the six Europeans they were supposed to ride with backed out. Facing a gruelling physical challenge and mockery from the media, Watson and company immerse themselves into a race that would push their bodies and minds to the limit.
Inspired by Watson’s story, as told in the novel Harry Watson: The Mile Eater by Jonathan Kennett, Keoghan, who also directs the film, decided to recreate the perilous journey. With his best friend Ben Cornell at his side, Keoghan not only wanted to follow the same path as the 1920 race, but do so with original bikes and gear from that year. Not only was this extremely dangerous, as those bikes did not have the standard brakes we use today, but France had changed a lot since then. Many of the roads were now either highways or replaced by urban development.
It is easy to see why Keoghan would be drawn to Watson’s plight as it is the ultimate underdog tale. Though Le Ride is designed to highlight these dedicated athletes that have been unfortunately forgotten over time, Keoghan’s film spends the bulk of the time documenting the grueling journey he and Cornell endure. While this approach does emphasize the depths of the team’s achievements, the film always seems to be walking that delicate line between historical education and vanity project.
Le Ride, thankfully, never crosses into the latter, but it does come close at time. Keoghan himself nearly dilutes the message by pointing out at the end that one does not need to go to such lengths to understand the hardships that these men encountered. While this is clearly meant to be a rallying cry for the viewer to go out and read up on these individuals, it also raises the question regarding the motives behind the film’s structure. He could have easily made a film that focused more on the events of the past without all the emphasis on himself or Cornell.
Fortunately, the picturesque French landscapes and Keoghan’s charming personality help to ensure that Le Ride never overshadows the men it was designed to praise.
Le Ride screens for one night only on August 23rd at Cineplex theatres across Canada