The Invisible Mile by New Zealand author David Coventry is a fictionalised account of the five Australian and New Zealand cyclists who, in 1928, formed the first English-speaking team to ride the Tour de France.
The story’s narrator is the author’s addition to the team. His exploits, hardships and worries provide a pretty good impression of just how tough those early Tours must have been: the fixed-gear bikes, wooden rims, rough, unsurfaced roads, no team support, massive stages that start and finish in the dark. Just imagining it all is sufficiently daunting.
The telling of this Tour takes on a dream-like, almost nightmarish nature, thanks in part to Coventry’s poetic style, and to the narrator’s frequent reminiscences and inter-etape opium sessions.
However, there’s a lot more to this story than cycling and drugs. Themes of guilt, love, heroism and grief are expanded upon as the narrator struggles with issues related to his sister’s death and his older brother’s role in, and transformation by, the horrors of the First War.
- The Good: cyclists should enjoy The Invisible Mile for its insight into those early Tours. It’s also a great novel that just happens to have a bike race as its backdrop.
- The Not Sure: I found the telling of what was happening race-wise a bit hazy (but perhaps that was purposeful, a result of the narrator’s drug use and chronic fatigue: even he wasn’t sure where he was).
Intrigued by the story? There’s a movie too.
David Coventry isn’t alone in telling the tale of the Aussie/Kiwi team in the 1928 Tour. Phil Keoghan, host of U.S. TV show The Amazing Race, re-rode the route of that year’s race, on a bike from the same era, and filmed the madness so we could all see just how much fun he had (er, how bloody hard it was).
The result is the documentary The Ride. I’ve not seen it, but the trailer (below) looks great.