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Sofiane Sehili: FKT at The French Divide

Sofiane Sehili

The man who doesn't sleep...

It's what most people know about Sofiane. He's set scintillating times at some of the world's premier bikepacking races over the past couple of years, with his biggest win of the year so far coming in the Atlas Mountain Race back in February.
But, there's a lot more to Sof than his (insane) ability to keep riding for days on end. Josh caught up with him last week to find out more about the rider who's just smashed the fastest known time on the French Divide...
 
(With special thanks to Aubin Berthe for all of the images used below)

Josh: Firstly, congratulations on taking the win (and fastest known time) on the French Divide. You’ve just been through a pretty intense few months of racing... How did your body react to backing up 3 big races in 2 months? (Hope 1000, Three Peaks, and French Divide)

Sofiane: I find that recovering from an off-road event always takes more time than a tarmac one. My plan was to take 2 weeks off after the Hope 1000, then get back to some sort of shape. Unfortunately I got a bit sick and the only kind of riding I ended up being able to do was 500km over three days to get to Vienna. My body wasn't ready for the crazy pace of Three Peaks and 3 days into the race, my achilles and knees were killing me. I had to slow down and let Ulrich Bartholmoes go. It was then just a matter of hanging on to my second place.

On the first day of the French Divide, only 10 days after the Three Peaks, I immediately felt my legs weren't there. I knew I would have to race with my head. Not push too hard on the pedals but be consistent, disciplined, sleep very little, and keep my time off the bike to a minimum. As it turns out, the ten days of recovery were enough to get rid of the general fatigue, and I didn't struggle with sleep deprivation. I took it really easy the first four days to survive the heat wave. Then I kind of rode into it. But needless to say; I'm absolutely exhausted now.

J: What did you think of the French Divide route? I’ve heard mixed feedback over the years, did you enjoy it?

S: I am very impressed with the way Samuel (the organiser) put together a 2300km long course with so much variety and so little tarmac. I mean, obviously you're gonna have some pavement when you ride across an entire country. But I really feel he did his best to keep it to a minimum. As for the legit mountain biking sections, I have never seen a bikepacking race with so many of them. And he still managed to keep the hike-a-bike to a minimum. And whenever you end up pushing the bike, it never lasts for long. All in all, I was never bored. I felt the riding was always hard and fun, with loads of climbing, stunning views, a great varitey of landscapes and some of the most beautiful villages I've ever seen. I've done a few races and this one easily ranks among the best.

 

J: How does a more technical route compare to races such as the Tour Divide and Atlas Mountain Race? What is your preference?

S: I feel it's harder on the legs but easier on the mind. The surface and the style of riding is always changing on the French Divide. You never end up getting bored by that long, wide, flat gravel road or that 30km long climb that you feel will never end. Before you feel you've had enough of something, you're riding something else, switching from pavement to singletrack, from flat to hilly terrain, from a bumpy gravel road to a smooth one. The French Divide has it all... gravel (from hard-packed to loose), dirt, sticky mud, rocks, dry river beds, grass, even a little bit of sand. As for the mountain biking sections, they're glorious. I'm not the most skilled rider and yet I had a ton of fun.

J: You have recently hooked up with Bombtrack as a bike sponsor. Tell us a bit about your setup, is that a new bike model you were riding?

S: Bombtrack provided a frame from their upcoming collection. It's the aluminium version of the Cale which allows to build a lighter, more performance oriented mountain bike. Like most of the Bombtrack bikes, it comes with bosses and eyelets everywhere in case you need a bottle cage under the down tube, a rack or a bolt-on top tube pack. I built it with a rigid fork as I wanted to keep the weight low. Equipped with the HUNT XC Wide and René Herse Fleecer Ridge tires, it turned out to be a very efficient cross-country machine.

 

J: Another quick bike setup question… drop bars or flats?

S: I always feel safer with flat bars. I really can't see myself tackling technical descents with drop bars.

J: What does the rest of the year hold for you? You seem to have maximised the racing in what is a tricky year for events and travel. Is it time for a break, or are there more plans afoot?

S: I think it's time for me to take a break. I'm keen on racing in October if I can find a nice short event. But most of all I'd like to have some time for bike touring.

 

J: And finally, when the world gets back to ‘normal’ what are the big goals for your cycling career?

S: The big goal is, and has always been, the Tour Divide. The only thing that changed is that, for years, I just wanted to win the Grand Depart. But last year I ended up riding ahead of Mike Hall's record pace, and since then the idea of setting a new record has stuck with me. Other than that, I just want to keep racing, have fun and rack up some more wins.

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