Le Ride follows Phil and his friend Ben Cornell as they attempt to recreate the original route of the 1928 Tour de France. Averaging 240-kilometres a day for 26 days, Phil and Ben traverse both the unforgiving mountains and the Western Alps, on original vintage steel bikes with no gears and marginal brakes.
The documentary was made as part of Phil’s determination to raise the profile of New Zealand champion biker Harry Watson, originally from Christchurch.
“I hadn’t heard about Harry or his achievements until I spotted a book, The Mile Eater, six years ago. It told Harry’s story and just blew me away,” says Phil.
Harry Watson was part of the first English speaking team to take on the Tour de France. He and Australian teammates Sir Hubert Opperman, Ernest Bainbridge and Percy Osborn were among 168 riders who started the race in 1928. As a new and untested team of four they took on teams of 10 elite European cyclists.
“Many considered the Australasian team to be a complete joke. The 1928 tour was hell on wheels and designed to eliminate as many riders as possible. Most of the roads were unpaved and poorly lit; the bikes were made from heavy steel and weighed twice as much as a modern racing bike,” says Phil, who produced Le Ride with his wife and producing partner, Louise Keoghan.
“Only 41 riders finished the race. 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.
Phil and Louise decided to honour Harry by not just telling his Tour de France story but by bringing it back to life by riding the route.
What transpired was a grueling journey that Phil says is the “hardest thing I have ever done – both physically and mentally,” says Phil.
The journey has now been crafted into the documentary, Le Ride, which will premiere on July 29 at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch.
“It’s a charming and well-researched story that anyone with an interest in our sporting past should see. Phil and his team take the audience with them on this remarkable challenge they have set themselves and you can’t help but feel their elation and pain along the way. The camera work is stunning. I could not be happier that NZIFF can provide the giant screens to show the magnificence of the settings. Both Phil and Harry are from Christchurch so it’s fitting Le Ride is shown for the first time there. The Isaac Theatre Royal will also give this premiere the sense of occasion it deserves – it will be a very special night.” says NZIFF director Bill Gosden.
Phil Keoghan will introduce his film at the world premiere in Christchurch and says: “I love that Harry Watson’s story has come full circle – all the way back to Christchurch where it started. This important part of New Zealand history has been forgotten for too long and I’m looking forward to seeing it celebrated.”