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

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Another fun fact for you: the third finger, left hand thing, while it’s great to know when you’re looking for someone to hit on in a bar, it’s a cultural thing, not legal. Part memoir and part travelogue, this Roger Deakin award-winning book is also a paean to the magic and mystery of the coastline surrounding Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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.Beginning with a fragment of a century-old race, Ned has written a ‘biography of the unknown rider’. This is a journey of personal discovery, with Boulting presenting himself as one man against a world indifferent to his inquiries, a man alone putting right what once went wrong by remembering the forgotten, uncovering the overlooked and painting in again a man who has been airbrushed from history, Beeckman somehow having acquired the full trifecta of historical annulments.

If Boulting even mentioned the Petit Tour in 1923 – or, for that matter, the Critérium des Aiglons – I must have missed it. 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. In the autumn of 2020 Ned Boulting (ITV head cycling commentator and Tour de France obsessive) bought a length of Pathé news film from a London auction house.

Beeckman fell into 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 at auction a portion of a Pathé newsreel from the 1923 Tour and then set about turning its two-and-a-half-minutes of celluloid into a book and a TV programme.

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