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1923: The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession

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The isolating circumstances in which Boulting acquired the film were the catalyst, rather than the drama of the film itself. On the left, one of the Agence Rol images that can be found on Gallica, on the right a similar image from the pages of Le Miroir des Sports in August 1923.

Quirky, perhaps a little esoteric but enchanting and (to me at least) fascinating account of a tiny and previously forgotten snippet of the 1923 Tour de France, but expanded to take in a much wider context.I felt transported back with him to the very origins of bike racing and the world that created it ― David Millar. Most of it is really a self-indulgent lockdown diary, Boulting telling us how horrible the whole thing was, as if he was the only one to endure it. Ned is the author of five books, including the bestselling How I Won the Yellow Jumper and On the Road Bike.

When cycling commentator Ned Boulting bought a length of Pathe news film featuring a stage of the Tour de France from 1923 he set about learning everything he could about it - taking him on an intriguing journey that encompasses travelogue, history and detective story. An education in the effects of War (post and looming,) in a particular society (time and place) and how life reboots and copes. It starts about 150 kilometres and six hours into the stage, still another 260 or so kilometres and more than nine hours of racing to go. It sets him off in fascinating directions, encompassing travelogue, history, mystery story - to explain, to go deeper into this moment in time, captured on his little film. A fascinating deep-dive into down a rabbit hole that does a good job of taking you on a journey to Tours around the World War I era.And then there are the many, many characters, some scarcely believable, whose extraordinary lives brush up in unexpected ways against this fragment of history, preserved from oblivion by nothing more providential than pure coincidence. There are the riders, some well-known, some almost completely forgotten, whose personal stories are shot through with hardship. A great example of what constitutes the best longform writing about sport - The New European You may also be interested in. Not only that though, but the interweaving of stories like Beeckman’s – and Boulting’s incredible realisation that he has the only known footage of Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange – with context around the geography of the clip, the stage’s place in the 1923 Tour and the wider world in 1923, including the rise of Adolf Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, Albert Einstein and much more, is fantastic. It sent Boulting down an intriguing rabbit hole as he explored the characters, places and contexts of 1923’s 412km stage 4.

Getting back to the cycling, Beeckman’s story being thin gruel we get brief portraits of Henri Pélissier, who was killed by his lover; of Ottavio Bottecchia, who died in mysterious circumstances; and of Jean Alavoine, who died following a crash (I know that this is history and in history everyone dies, but Boulting really does trowel it on thick, it’s like he’s adapting Horrible Histories’ ‘ Stupid Death’ sketches by removing the laughs). I sit in the sun trap, the heat helping to transport me a few hundred kilometres across the Channel from North Norfolk to La Roche-Bernard, South-East of Brest, where France juts out deep into the Atlantic Ocean. Side note: the word for this ‘sonder’ was coined about ten years ago and has since become about 5,000,000 brand names). In this engaging melange of sports writing, history, travelogue and detective story, ITV's head cycling commentator and author of On the Road Bike explores a short piece of film footage from the 1923 Tour de France and shares his fascinating investigations into the riders featured.When cycling commentator Ned Boulting bought a length of Pathé news film featuring a stage of the Tour de France from 1923 he set about learning everything he could about it – taking him on an intriguing journey that encompasses travelogue, history and detective story. The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products. As the pandemic struck in 2020, Boulting acquired a fragile, two-and-a-half-minute fragment of century-old newsreel showing snatches of the 1923 Tour de France. I conduct an audit of what I know of Beeckman: that he was small, that he was normally quiet, that he was respected, strong, and that he grew up in modest circumstances. Added to this was, by 1923, an air of defiance to the immediate post-War Tours, cycling through the devastated landscape in which the guns had finally fallen silent.

Mysterious beauty: the daymark on St Martin's, Isles of Scilly, whose coastline is explored in The Draw of the Sea. I particularly enjoyed the photo of the Belgian window view that occupied 10 days on twitter timeline being brought to life once more. On the same day, there’s the bombing of the Duisburg-Hochfeld bridge spanning the Rhine, in which several people were killed. Ein Guthaben pro Monat, einlösbar für einen beliebigen Titel, den du herunterladen und auch nach deiner Kündigung behalten kannst. You can’t rely on Henry Decoin telling you that Beeckman was a “timid man, modest, who never says anything except with his legs” because Decoin is playing with stereotypes to sell a particular image of the Tour.

And so when he finds something that doesn’t fit the romantic portrait he’s painted in his head – such as the news that in later life Beeckman may actually have been a bit of an arse – he isn’t able to do as Daniel Coyle did in Lance Armstrong’s War and show that our hero is actually more like us than we realise. Join him as he explores the history of cycling and France just five years after WWI – meeting characters like Henri Pélissier, who won the Tour that year but who would within the decade be shot dead by his wife's lover. Along the way Ned’s portfolio of work has expanded, annual credit includes coverage of the Tour of Britain and Vuelta a Espana. Come down the travelators, exit Sainsbury's, turn right and follow the pedestrianised walkway to Crown Walk and turn right - and Coles will be right in front of you. But it is further evidence that Beeckman may not have been the most straightforward man to manage, after all.

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