Harry Watson

The Mile Eater

Harry Watson has been described as a “mile eater”, an “‘Iron Man’ of New Zealand cycling”, a “thoroughbred trained to the minute” and in the very next breath, as a gentleman with “an unruffled serenity under all conditions”. The intriguing image of this gentle loner pitting himself against the world’s most brutal cycling events makes the sporting life of the first New Zealander to race in the Tour de France an inspirational read.

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His bicycle had become a crutch. Leaning against it, he gazed up the twisty mountain road that lead to Col du Galiber (2556 metres). Behind him, 3500 kilometres of France had passed beneath his tyres. Ahead, almost 2000 kilometres remained. It was too far. Most competitors had already pulled out, leaving him to trail the Tour’s field of survivors. Yet despite saddle sores, diarrhoea and chronic fatigue, he struggled on.

In 1928, New Zealand’s professional road cycling champion, Harry Watson, joined the first English speaking team to take part in the Tour de France. He was only 24 years old, and despite his team being unfairly handicapped by bizarre race rules, Watson managed to finish 28th in general classification.

Armed with the experience gained in France, Harry returned home and proceeded to set race records that lasted long after he retired. He pioneered the use of derailleurs and tubular tyres in New Zealand road racing and, between 1929 and 1935, won seven national road championships in succession, a record that has not been achieved by any other rider since.

  1. He is one of our greatest riders … it gives me goosebumps just reading about it.

    Tino Tabak, Tour de France rider