Title: 1923 – The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession
Author: Ned Boulting
What it is: The clown prince of cycling commentary wipes off the greasepaint after acquiring a Pathé newsreel from the 1923 Tour and sets off on a voyage of discovery
Strengths: There’s something about bike racing in these years
Weaknesses: Boulting doesn’t even attempt to offer an argument for why his piece of Pathé history is actually important
Cycling is full of half-remembered forgotten heroes. Take my good friend Teddy Hale, the Irishman who wasn’t. I and others have tried to research and write about his story, have buried ourselves in the archives and spoken to his descendants and still we know little about this Englishman who won the 1896 Madison Square Garden International Six Day Race while pretending to be an Irishman.
Or how about the first woman of the Hour, Mlle de Saint-Sauveur? Several people have tried to find out more about her but all we’ve been able to learn at this stage comes from a couple of races before her Hour record and a couple of races after. We don’t even know her first name.
Resurrecting the forgotten, remembering the overlooked, reinstating those airbrushed from history, it’s what keeps the publishing industry alive. Ned Boulting’s 1923 – The Mystery of Lot 212 and a Tour de France Obsession concerns itself with bringing back to life Théophile Beeckman, whose palmarès includes two Tour stage wins and some close-calls in the Tour and other races.
Yes, you may well be able to find Beeckman’s name in Christopher Thompson’s Tour de France. And it goes without saying that he features in Bill and Carol McGann’s two-volume Story of the Tour de France, and all the other blow-by-blow Tour histories too: winning a Tour stage gives you a certain immortality. But like many other immortalised Tour stage winners, Beeckman doesn’t really feature anywhere. In the big picture of the sport, he was never all that important. Which is true of 99% of those who have contributed to the history of the sport. (And the ghost of Homer whispered…)
Beeckman fell into Ned Boulting’s life when the ITV commentator-come author – How I Won the Yellow Jumper (2011), How Cav Won the Green Jersey (2012), 101 Damnations (2014), On the Road Bike (2014), Boulting’s Velosaurus (2016), Heart of Dart-ness (2018), Square Peg, Round Ball (2022) – acquired a brief Pathé newsreel from…