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You know Phil Keoghan. You may not think you do, but you do. You can see him on his adventures as the main man on CBS’s “The Amazing Race.” Phil has always been a cyclist. He loves the sport. He also loves adventure. He’s the perfect person for the show. Out of his love of adventure comes his latest project: “Le Ride.” Imagine retracing the 1928 Tour de France stage by stage on rickety old bikes from the era, with one gear in the rear and, for the most part, no brakes. Oh, yeah, throw in giant mountain passes, roads that aren’t there anymore, weather, long days (and sometimes nights) on the bike, a film crew, a full sag group, and you have just created the most maniacal, amazing French adventure. One thing that set the 1928 Tour apart was a team from down under—three Aussies (Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborne and Ernie Bainbridge) and a Kiwi (Harry Watson)—sponsored by Ravat-Wonder-Dunlop. So tracing the 5,476-kilometer course ridden by New Zealand’s first Tour competitor held particular interest for his compatriot, Phil Keoghan. We caught up with Phil recently to break it all down, bit by bit.
In issue 67 we printed a snippet of this interview with Keoghan. This is the complete interview.
Interview: Tim Schamber
Images: Keoghan Films, Doug Jensen, & National Library Australia
The 1928 team ready for the voyage to France. Image: National Library Australia.
Peloton Magazine: Was the intention always to do the 1928 Tour route? Or did you have other years in mind?
Phil Keoghan: Growing up, I dreamed of riding in the Tour de France. My first serious bike was a secondhand yellow 1970s Peugeot with Simplex components. My dad picked it up for me when I was 10. I could barely get my leg over the top tube and I had to have the seat as low as it would go. Growing up on the island of Antigua in the West Indies, I would set out every day and ride for miles and miles all over the island trying to keep up with some serious cyclists along the way. I got dropped more times than I can remember and eventually the older riders tried to help me out—one rider even let me hang onto a toe strap on the back of his seat so I could keep up on the hills around Fig Tree Drive. I remember being so proud after completing a 50-mile ride with them. A number of those riders represented Antigua in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Games on the track.
The biggest inspiration for me growing up was seeing “Breaking Away.” That film made me decide I was going to ride in the Tour de France…. I guess my dream came true, I just never thought it would be the 1928 Tour de France! I headed back to New Zealand, where I was born, for high school as a boarder. Cycling was not a big sport in New Zealand at that time; it was all about rugby. Being new to the game and quite small but with a quick sprint, I initially joined the track-and-field team, eventually reaching the final of the New Zealand High Schools 100-meter final in my final year. By that stage I had doubled my weight and grown more than a foot so I also enjoyed playing rugby.
I never lost my passion for cycling, having read biographies from various legends like Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, as well as Tour de France documentaries and books. I didn’t really start riding seriously again until I was about 40 when my wife and I stepped in to be the title sponsor of a local developmental team here in Santa Monica. That led to both of us road racing and then owning a professional women’s cycling team for three years. Our NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) & Novartis for MS team became the No. 1 team in the country, with a number of national championship wins.
Walking through Auckland Airport a few years ago I called in to the bookshop where I spied a book that had “New Zealand Cycling Legends” on the spine and the title, “Harry Watson: The Mile Eater,” by the Kennett Brothers. Turns out, Harry was not only the first Kiwi to ride in the Tour de France, but also part of the first English-speaking team to ride in the Tour. It’s pretty extraordinary that this happened in 1928 while the U.S. didn’t ride in the Tour until the 1980s.
I read the “Mile Eater” in one go, captivated by this amazing underdog story. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard about Harry before; even the professional New Zealand cyclists I know had never heard of him…mind blowing when you consider Harry was a national champion so many times. Harry used to go over to Australia for the big races there and was the other rider who could go toe to toe with world-class racer Hubert Opperman. In New Zealand culture, especially in the 1920s, you just show off about your exploits so Harry’s extraordinary success across the pond went completely unnoticed.
When we were researching the idea of telling Harry’s story I interviewed his 85-year-old son who had never seen the numerous articles I showed him of his father racing overseas. We decided that Harry’s story had to be told and that since all the key players in the 1928 down-under team are all now gone, we would need to find a way to literally bring their story back to life on original Tour de France race bikes, following the same course and sticking with the same schedule. I believe my buddy Ben [Cornell] and I might have the record for arriving late to a race…85 years after the gun went off!
Image: National Library Australia.
Peloton: So it was decided: “Let’s retrace the 1928 Tour!” What were the next steps in getting this huge undertaking off the ground?
Keoghan: Some years ago I decided to ride across the U.S. with my dad, best friend and cinematographer Scott, my favorite cycling partner Ben and Greg, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, who rides a moto for the Tour of California. They were my first call, I knew if I had them on board then I’d at least have a chance of making it.
Next up was working out a budget and logistics with my wife and producing partner, Louise; meeting with potential sponsors for camera equipment, lenses, vehicles, nutrition, clothing, navigation, hard drives, lights, et cetera; researching the exact route, Tour history, riders, organizers, sponsors, famous mountain stages; tracking down an original Ravat-Wonder bike, exactly like the one the team rode; stripping the Ravat down, rebuilding wheels, bottom bracket, making a new seat post and stem; traveling all over the world looking for old photos, newspaper articles and film footage; searching for clues online and then driving around France following clues to figure out a way to stick, as close as possible, to the exact course.
Oh, and let’s not forget that I still had to prepare for a new season of “Amazing Race.” which I shot for a month, then had only two weeks at home before we headed to France. In between all that I worked with coach Brady Irwin at Science of Speed, who tried to get me to train for the 150 miles a day average I had to face in France. To be honest, when I lined up in France with Ben [Cornell] I was already pretty exhausted and really had no idea that trying to shoot a documentary while taking on the 1928 Tour de France was quite insane.
It’s safe to say, the bikes were truly vintage. Image: Keoghan Films.
Peloton: It’s pretty reasonable to retrace the stages of say a modern-day Tour like 2016, but 1928? Were you worried that the roads from that era didn’t even exist today?
Keoghan: The distances they rode back in the day were truly insane. The 1928 Tour was over 1,000 miles longer than the Tour is today, most of the roads were unsealed and of course they rode these heavy steel bikes that weighed twice as much as a modern bike …not to mention the fact that they had no gears and marginal brakes. Yes, I was worried. Thankfully, the roads are sealed today and we certainly have a much better understanding of nutrition than the 1928 riders.
Our biggest challenge was staying on course. Many of the roads they rode on for the flat stages are now dangerous highways that today are illegal to ride bikes on. We kept trying to find access roads next to the highways, but many of these veered us away from the direct route. The roads we followed would sometimes run parallel with the highway then pass back under or over the highway adding many miles to our stages, not to mention tremendous frustration. Apart from the towns and cities we were riding to and from, we also had certain landmarks we knew were part of the course and navigating to those waypoints became yet another challenge.
That said, knowing that we were exactly where the riders were 85 years before was a real thrill, especially when we could match up old photographs and compare the changes that have taken place since then. We had seven stages over 200 miles, including stage 9 over the Pyrenees, which took us almost 24 hours to complete [compared with just over 16 hours by the 1928 riders]. While those stages were incredibly physically challenging, the navigation was much easier as we simply connected from one famous climb to another—such as the Col d’Aubisque to the Col du Tourmalet—knowing we were on the same roads they were on in 1928.
Image: Doug Jensen.
Peloton: You also decided to go “old school” with the bikes. There are some great bits in the movie about the search for the bikes and the mechanics who helped modify them to accommodate you and Ben….
Keoghan: After two years searching for Harry Watson’s original bike, I followed one dead end after another. So I settled on finding the exact kind of bike…but once again, nothing. Finally, I found a collector in France [Jean-Paul Bourrounet], who had the most extraordinary collection I’d ever seen. He is the guy filmmakers call on for historical accuracy and mint-condition period bicycles. Using Google Translate to help me go back and forth with him over email I was very excited to discover that he had an extremely rare Ravat-Wonder bike the down-under team rode in 1928.
By this time I had established a good rapport with Jean-Paul, but when I explained that I wanted to use the bike to retrace the 1928 Tour de France, he either thought I was mad or somehow our communication was lost in translation. He thought that I was trying to get the bike off him at a good price in order to sell it and ultimately that whatever I was asking I would have to do it in person, which is exactly what I did. We got on right from the start. A young boy from the local village helped with translation as I showed Jean-Paul my film about riding across America and explained that my wife and I had given all the profits, more than a million dollars to date, away to the National MS Society. By the time I retold Harry’s story we were on our third cup of tea and we were invited to dinner and, in the end, we celebrated me purchasing the bike with a bike ride together, with Jean-Paul jumping up onto his favorite penny-farthing.
Ben found his bike online, a little worse for wear, and then we had both bikes stripped down to the bearings to examine the frames for cracks or catastrophic rust that might end our ride in disaster. We then rebuilt both bikes and headed out for a test ride from LA to San Diego. Within 20 miles, Ben’s brakes blew to bits and mine barely functioned. Unfortunately, we couldn’t just replace the old original brakes with new ones as the frame design wouldn’t accommodate them. By that stage we were committed to go with the old bikes so we knew we would just have to find a way to survive.
Phil Keoghan (front) and Ben Cornell. Image: Doug Jensen.
We had other issues too. My frame was way too small. Riders in that era had bikes fitted so that the seat post was about 2 inches off the top tube, I needed it about 8 inches high. I had to have a custom one built by my friends Gary and Jim Berry, twins and engineers, who have a real passion for old bikes. With an extremely high seat post and the acute angle of the seat tube setting me so far back on the bike, they made me a solid-steel, 3-pound seat post in the shape of a seven so I could get my riding position further forward. Once set up properly on the seat I was then too close to the bars, so they had to then make me a custom stem.
Let’s just say the bike was not comfortable and the long wheelbase with extreme rake on the front fork made bike-handling at slower speeds very difficult. It took me a few hundred miles to figure out how to stand up and climb. You will have seen that on the first day my stem cracked, so I had to sit for the first 150 miles anyway. Ben had his own set of problems, including a bobble in the bearings of the headset requiring him to constantly steer to the left.
Peloton: Throughout the movie, navigation seemed to be the toughest thing to really get straight?
Keoghan: Besides those problems already mentioned, and with so many changes to the landscape, new towns, World War II, new bridges, roads…it really was a nightmare at times. We searched so hard to find the original 1928 race map but just couldn’t find one. If any of your readers have one…do me a favor and don’t tell me! At this point, it might be too much to handle.
Check out Phil’s seatpost! Image: Doug Jensen.
Peloton: In the beginning, riding these old bikes, did you ever think: “What the fuck are we doing?” Or, because you are an adventurer at heart, did you just see this as just another day in the life of Phil Keoghan?
Keoghan: Doing the test ride from LA to San Diego I thought WTF are we doing but when I realized that we were doing something new and different we both really embraced the idea; and, thankfully, having Ben suffering alongside me every day we found a way to, as we say in New Zealand, just give it a go! Now that we’re done, I certainly have no desire to ride the 1928 Tour de France again!
There really is something wonderful about heading out on my high-tech Scott bike with electronic gears…. I keep thinking, what would Harry and the boys think if they saw the way they ride the Tour today; it would be like they’d gone to another planet. Funny story, when I got back from France I went on a ride with a friend. We rode TOTS, a well-known 50-mile ride here in Santa Monica, with almost 4,000 feet of climbing. After France I felt like I was flying on my modern bike. Having coffee afterwards my friend said, I didn’t want to say anything, but did you realize that you did that entire ride without shifting?
Peloton: Initially, it was probably pretty rough on these old bikes to get a rhythm going, but did you find as the stages ticked by that you became at-one-with-the-bike?
Keoghan: Ben and I rode more than 90 percent of the Tour using a 50-tooth chain ring with a 17-tooth cog, about a 79-inch gear. After a while I really loved the rhythm and mix of spinning and grinding in the most efficient way using the same gear on the flat and power climbs. Going with a single-speed really made me appreciate the passion some riders have for single-speed bikes. As a heavier rider, about 172 pounds, it made me understand how a guy like François Faber, a monster of a man nicknamed The Giant of Colombes, could win the 1909 Tour de France weighing almost 200 pounds. Faber could use his power and weight to stomp on a big gear up the mountains, leaving the lighter riders in his dust as they stopped to change to easier gears.
Peloton: Technically, you were on old bikes but you had some modern bits on it. I was surprised to hear that you guys had no flats!
Keoghan: One change I made was with the cranks. The original Tour bike I had was too small and to make matter worse it was fitted with 165mm cranks. I tried riding them but felt like I was on a kid’s bike, so I swopped them out for my usual 172.5mm crank length. We had to rebuild the wheels and obviously had to replace the deteriorated old tires. Amazingly, with modern 25mm Specialized Armadillo tires, Ben and I rode 3,338 miles without one flat, 6,676 miles between us. Back in 1928 they would get up to a dozen flats a day! Finally, being twice as old as the average Tour riders, we decided we would give ourselves the luxury of using a modern seat. There was enough pain involved in cranking out the watts on our 29-pound bikes—why make it worse with saddle sores from a stiff leather seat?
Grinding out another long day. Image: Doug Jensen.
Peloton: Throughout the film there were some rough riding moments when it came to braking and in general not having any gears. How much did that take out of you guys?
Keoghan: The brakes were a nightmare. Working so hard to push our vintage bikes up so many legendary climbs we were too nervous to enjoy the descents. As I said in the film, our brakes were really more like rubbing devices rather than brakes. Our backup was to jam our left foot between the frame and the rear tire, an old trick we both mastered as kids. Obviously that was our last resort, as it wouldn’t take too long for our metal cleats to blow the tire. As I mentioned I really embraced the idea of riding with a single gear and actually enjoyed muscling a big gear up steep climbs with a 55-rpm cadence. That said, there were many times when I resented having to come to a complete stop to change gears; every time we stopped I knew we were just adding time to the suffering.
Peloton: You and Ben were out there on some serious miles and in many cases out there from morning and through the night. How important was it to have a really chill riding partner?
Keoghan: I can’t imagine suffering alone on this ride. Ben is my favorite riding partner; ever since our first ride together something just clicked. We both have different strengths but, overall, balance each other out perfectly. Over a four-day stage race we finished with almost the exact time. I know I really tested Ben’s patience at times, wanting to stop and film something for our documentary. Again, trying to take on this physical challenge while directing a movie was extremely ambitious. Also our DP, director of photography, was constantly fighting for the best shots and there were a number of occasions when he suggested we turn around and then retrace our tracks so he could get a great shot he saw. Ben knew that stopping would cause us to cool down and risk cramping up but thankfully he understood we needed to make lots of stops to tell the story, change batteries, lenses, et cetera.
Peloton: Was there ever a time when you guys thought: “Let’s cut this thing short?”
Keoghan: Never…and the farther we went into the ride the more committed we both were to finishing. There were times when we were in a bit of a trance, as Ben said. We lost track of time and my mind would play tricks on me. Even with our hallucinations we had our minds made up that we would, as Sir Hubert Opperman said, “Never, never give up!” I don’t think Ben and I would have let the other pack it in either. This ride was all about mental toughness, settling in with the pain and discomfort. We really felt we had to survive to honor the 1928 team. I always had in my mind that we were going to run into them around the next corner and that if we didn’t catch them they would be waiting for us at the finish line. I remember being quite emotional at the end realizing that they weren’t there and were gone forever.
Peloton: While you guys were on the bike, the crew was crawling along in cars and on motorcycles documenting this. I think at some point in the movie you mentioned they were going a bit nuts….
Keoghan: Yes, Ben and I were so focused on being physically and mentally ready for our ride that it wasn’t until about the fifth day that we really took into what the crew were going through. You really can’t train to drive a car 15-plus hours a day driving at an average of say 20 miles an hour. Supporting the ride was just part of the challenge; every night we had to unload all the camera equipment to recharge batteries, download video files and set up a small portable edit suite so we could cut together video blogs that we posted each night online.
My mum took charge of all the nutrition so everyday she would have to clean all the bottles, go shopping to replenish supplies and get laundry done. Since we were often leaving and then arriving at the end of each stage in the dark it left little time for us to also fit in navigation meetings and filling up the vehicles. Sleep deprivation became a real issue. After completing stage 5 and a late-night finish, where one of our support vehicles drove through a roundabout the wrong way, Ben pulled me aside and pointed out that if we didn’t build in some downtime for everyone we risked having a terrible accident.
I agreed, so one morning we headed out alone so people could sleep in, have a nice relaxed breakfast and catch up with us down the road. Of course this happened to be a morning when, with no cameras around, we got hit with a massive storm bomb that flattened trees and generated so much rain we couldn’t see far enough ahead to ride. By the time the team caught up with us we were both naked in a restaurant bathroom trying to dry our chamois with an electric hand dryer. Ben reminded me that he took the opportunity to change his socks when the vehicles arrived and apparently, when I found out he did this without telling me, I was quite incensed that he didn’t suggest that I do the same….
Image: Keoghan Films.
Peloton: Ultimately this ride was not just about the Tour but the four “hard-as-nails” riders: Watson, Opperman, Bainbridge and Osborne. What attracted you to these guys aside from being from your neck of the woods?
Keoghan: First and foremost this was about trying to honor the riders from the past. Without having the riders around to talk with I knew that taking a traditional documentary approach—telling the story from the sidelines with historical voice-over—would not give viewers any real insight into just how challenging this race was. I knew also that the longer this story was left untold the harder it would be to tell. As my dad said, you must tell this story and even if no one watches at least you have preserved it for all time.
Sir Hubert Opperman has been extensively recognized in Australia and around the world with statues and even a knighthood, but for Harry Watson there is nothing, no statue…he’s not even in the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame. That’s crazy considering he won seven national road championships in a row, something no other Kiwi rider has ever done. I am currently working on having a statue made in our hometown of Christchurch and designed by famed New Zealand artist, Neal Dawson.
The other motivation for me had to be trying something new and different. I love taking risks and attempting to do things that others don’t think I can do or think possible. I knew we were taking a huge risk attempting to do this ride as a self-financed documentary, but I didn’t really think about it until Ben and I were half way through the Pyrenees. I said to Ben: “You know, if we fall and break a collarbone or our brakes fail us in these mountains, it’s all over…all this hard work, time, financial sacrifice and sweat will be for nothing!”
Peloton: The old footage of them making the trek to France, their personal stories and the reading from their journals, combined with the modern-day retracing of their steps, makes the movie flow perfectly….
Keoghan: Digging into the past was like a treasure hunt where one clue would lead to another and then we’d make these fantastic connections recognizing particular mountains and being able to identify riders, officials and support people in photos. Our biggest find came during a visit to the Canberra National Library, who had a big wooden box donated to them from the Opperman family. We literally blew the dust off the box and opened it up for the first time since it had been handed over. The staff gathered around us taking notes as we held glass slides up to the light making new discoveries and getting answers to things that had eluded us for years.
The crème de la crème was finding Opperman’s 1928 Tour de France leather-bound album, a chronological stage-by-stage photographic account with handwritten notes below each photograph describing, in detail, what was in his photos. Tour de France rider Stephen Hodge was with us and we all got goose bumps as we read each caption out loud. We had a similar experience with Harry Watson’s family, who shared a box of old personal photos during one of my many visits to New Zealand. Andrew Slade reached out to us from the small town of Koo Wee Rup in Australia with some excellent images of Percy Osborne.
Finding archival film footage was much more challenging. I do believe I found the only moving image of Harry Watson in the world after a three-year search. I have to admit I got quite emotional when I finally saw Harry come to life. We generated the archival material piece by piece, placing each new image on a large wall in our office along a timeline swopping out one shot for another depending on where we could make best use of it. By the time we locked the picture we had 54 drafts of the script.
Peloton: Because none of these legends is alive, how huge was it to get ahold of the journals? How did it shape or reshape the direction of the movie (if at all)?
Keoghan: I found a great radio interview about Oppy, recorded back in 1975, which highlights his extraordinary achievements. The only Australian ever to be voted European Sportsman of the Year and someone the French nicknamed, The Phenomenon. In the interview Opperman talks about the 1928 Tour and said it was the hardest thing he ever did in his career. Oppy also wrote an excellent book called “Pedal, Politics and People,” which offered further insight. Then we tracked down all the French cycling magazines and newspapers that were issued at that time (years to finds), had them translated and slowly started to create a timeline of events filling in any gaps we had with further research. We used all the historical information to create a newsreel script and Opperman’s personal account to give us a real sense of what it was like. We used New Zealand’s best-known radio news voice to tell the story and then Louise suggested we use Robbie McEwen’s voice to give Opperman’s perspective.
Peloton: How did you decide on Robbie? And what was his reaction when he first saw the finished product?
Keoghan: Robbie did a fantastic job bringing Opperman to life. It really helped that they met many years ago at an event…. I directed Robbie over the phone and at one point when we were telling Opperman’s story over the Pyrenees I said, “Robbie, close your eyes for me and think back to riding the Tour and, as a sprinter, suffering over the mountains trying to make the time cut…remember the pain, fatigue, dehydration and effort. Now read Opperman’s script.” Straight away the raw emotion came through in his reading and we were able to accurately portray what those guys went though. To be honest, I have not asked Robbie exactly what he thought but I presume he is happy; we have been selling out in theaters around Australia and just finished a four-month theatrical run at the ACMI, Australian Centre for Moving Images, in Melbourne.
Peloton: The cinematography is amazing. What type of gear was used to shoot it?
Keoghan: “Le Ride” was the first documentary feature film shot with a Sony F55 camera in 4K. To give you some perspective, HD, high-definition television, is 1080 lines; 4K has four times the resolution with more than 4,000 lines, a digital equivalent to Super 35mm film. Since we were on the cutting edge, again trying something new and different with the latest technology, we traveled with a great technical expert, Doug Jensen, who wrote the manual for the F55 and many other cameras; so we knew were in good hands. French lens company Angénieux, who are huge Tour de France fans, then offered us a number of super-fast zoom lenses to use during our shoot—many experts believe they make the best zoom lens in the world. Of course, it’s one thing to have great technology, you also have to have professionals who can utilize the equipment to capture spectacular footage. We had two great cinematographers on the ground: our director of photography, Scott Shelley, who was supported by another great shooter, Uri Sharon. For our aerials we called on two world-class operators who captured the Pyrenees and French Alps.
Peloton: As with any huge endeavor like this, the producer is the unsung heroine. What were the difficulties in making this thing go? Were there things that you would do differently?
Louise Keoghan [Phil’s wife]: When Phil and I took on this project we had no idea how huge an undertaking it would be. Neither of us had done a historical film like this before. There was very little archival material readily available, so it became a massive treasure hunt. We literally went from one end of the earth (France) to the other (Australia and New Zealand) to find photos, footage, diaries, newspapers, letters…anything that could help bring the story to life.
We then had to figure out how to juxtapose the story of Phil and Ben retracing the exact route with the 1928 story, so the audience would stay engaged and feel like there were two races going on at the same time, yet 85 years apart. We had post-its, index cards and big rolls of butcher paper all over the office walls, trying to figure out the best way to map out the amazing story of this Australasian underdog team.
Then, of course, there was the challenge of shooting day after day after long day in France with so many moving parts. We had to stay on target each day, making sure we hit the 150-mile average of riding without someone losing it—me, mostly—yet at the same time, ensuring we captured the story. It was mentally draining.
Would I do anything differently? I am not sure we would have arrived at this point if we had. Each challenge, which seemed insurmountable at the time, ended up being a positive for the finished product. If I were able to magically go back in time and change our approach, I fear it might take away from the film as you see it today.
Peloton: You mention often, Phil, that you have nothing but respect for the four riders who competed in the Tours from a bygone era. How gnarly were these guys?
Keoghan: The old races were races of attrition. Henri Desgrange, a champion rider who created the Tour de France back in 1903, designed the race so that ideally there would be only one rider who made it back to Paris after more than 3,000 miles of racing. When he first introduced the Col du Tourmalet in 1910, one rider yelled out to him that he was an assassin, and he relished the idea.
Desgrange was old school and often denied the use of the latest technology to make the race as tough as possible. He didn’t allow the use of derailleurs in the Tour de France until 1937 even though they had been invented years before that time. He felt that using derailleurs was cheating, that riders should succeed with the strength of their muscles and should only be used by riders over 45. Not sure what I would have done if I knew that before attempting the 1928 Tour!
The general hardships are hard to fathom: the thousands of miles they covered on unsealed roads up steep uneven surfaces, climbs that were so steep they had to carry their bikes, terrifying drop-offs on rough roads using marginal brakes, the dust that got in their sweating woolen clothing that became like sandpaper rubbing their skin raw, infected saddle sores that got worse and worse each day, dozens of flat tires, terrible nutrition and on and on. It’s not hard to understand why so many riders reached their breaking point and simply couldn’t carry on.
Peloton: You guys met a lot of interesting characters along the way. Anyone really stand out for you?
Keoghan: The two standouts were Marco Lebreton and Émile Arbes, velo enthusiasts with a real passion for keeping the history or cycling alive. Marco is a world champion penny-farthing rider who spends most of his time on a bicycle dressed up in period cycling outfits; and Émile is the owner of dozens of vintage bikes, many belonging to Tour de France winners. He is also the proud owner of a Victor Fontaine bike, exactly like the one Victor rode when he won the infamous stage 9 in 1928. I really wish we’d had more time to meet people along the way but there was this constant pressure to keep the miles ticking away. Thankfully, Marco and Émile were legit riders who had the chops to keep up, so we could catch up with them on the move. The two stages we rode through the Pyrenees with them were a real highlight of the trip.
Peloton: What is the ultimate message this journey sends after all these agonizing miles?
Keoghan: This is a story that I hope motivates people to get out and push themselves to the max. Ultimately, I think humans are meant to be tested. Again, “Le Ride” is about us not forgetting a great underdog story, knowing that ours will be available for future generations to enjoy is what I’m most proud of accomplishing, also being part of a dedicated team who all contributed to get us to the finish line. Pouring so much into a self-funded project is always a risk but when you know you are telling a story that finds an audience it is a tremendous feeling. “Le Ride” premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival; the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch was filled to the brim with about 1,000 people, Harry Watson’s extended family and friends were there…and, as the lights went down, I turned to my wife Louise and said, “Man, I hope they like what we’ve done.”
After five years’ work on our under-resourced independent feature, I suddenly realized this was the moment of truth. There had been no network notes or test screenings; if we didn’t connect with the audience it was all on us. Thankfully, we have found an audience; “Le Ride” was the festival’s second-highest grossing film at the New Zealand International Film Festival and was then released in theatres around New Zealand and Australia…. It was then selected for the 2017 SXSW festival in Austin, Texas; was the opening night film at the Louisville International Film Festival, where it won the Festival Favorite Award; was the opening night film at the American Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Best Director Award; and we just had a sell-out theatrical tour with Regal Cinemas in 12 U.S. cities, with 100 percent of the box office going to a number of fantastic charities. Over the summer, we will have a wider international theatrical release with Demand.Film, who offer anyone to request a screening in their hometown.
The boys finish! Image: Doug Jensen.
Peloton: Here me out on this one. What about “The Amazing Race: Cycling”?
Keoghan: Well that would be quite something wouldn’t it? “The Amazing Ride,” where teams follow clues across different countries, perhaps as a relay switching out riders so that the racing never stops. Still it’s hard to imagine there will ever be a more perfect cycling race than the Tour de France. More than 100 years of tradition, a love letter to France with history, drama and passion. Where spectators can stand right next to their heroes on the world’s most famous climbs. Surely it is the most amazing race of them all!
From issue 67. Buy it here.