It seems Harry Watson, forgotten New Zealand sports champ, is having his time in the sun.

There's been a non-fiction book about the first Kiwi in the Tour de France - Harry Watson: The Mile Eater by Jonathan Kennett, Bronwen Wall and Ian Gray.

More recently, The Invisible Mile, a novel by David Coventry about Harry's Australasian team being the first English-speaking team to race the tour in 1928 was nominated in this year's Ockham Book Awards.

A scene from the Tour De France documentary, Le Ride.
A scene from the Tour De France documentary, Le Ride.

But the most strenuous efforts, in terms of calories burned anyway, to ensure Watson's story won't be forgotten is Le Ride, the self-propelled doco by Phil Keoghan, the former NZ youth television presenter now better known for US reality tv show The Amazing Race, a programme which makes a sprint event out of tourism.

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Bike-nut Keoghan, who has already filmed himself riding across the US, was inspired by Mile Eater to re-ride Harry's race with a mate and film it.

His challenge was to complete 22 stages, totalling 5400km - almost 2000km longer than the modern event - on vintage, fixed-gear steel-framed bikes. True, in some places the roads were better. It's also true that in some other places, the roads weren't there anymore.

But at least the mountains are just as steep and the scenery is frequently spectacular.

Yes, predictably it sometimes resembles the style of Keoghan's day job with its talking heads recaps and an excitable soundtrack, the seismic symphonic surges of which threaten to cause rockfalls when the riders crests another mountain.

The period footage offers plenty of grim reminders about why ,of the 160 or so who entered the 1928 race, only a quarter finished. And if you couldn't get any belatedly prouder about our man Watson, there's a side-trip to Le Quesnoy, the town liberated in World War I by Kiwi troops, with one of Keoghan's ancestors among them.

A scene from the Tour De France documentary, Le Ride.
A scene from the Tour De France documentary, Le Ride.

Yes, you may have to have some interest in cycling to appreciate Watson's superhuman efforts and Keoghan's craziness to replicate them. It's sometimes hard to tell if Keoghan is smiling or grimacing as he grinds up another gradient, trying to keep up with the 1928 race pace. It's probably a bit of both.

Keoghan has certainly put his arse on the line to spin Harry's yarn in tandem with a personal challenge. It makes for a riveting if self-flagellating sports doco.

Verdict: A story that actually deserves to be called an "amazing race".


Cast and Director: Phil Keoghan
Rating: E
Running time: 90 mins