Sofiane Wins French Divide!

1,409 miles and more than 115,000 feet of climbing. The French Divide is a bikepacking race that traverses the entire length of France from North to South.

The course passes ancient stone walls and travels on remote forest tracks. The photos tend to come from the more accessible parts of the course, but much of the route in between is so rough that it’s not gravel any longer, but true mountain bike terrain.

And yet, there is plenty of smooth pavement, too, since the course traverses many small villages along the way. Imagine racing all this non-stop, with a time limit of 15 days.

When Sofiane Sehili, who already won this year’s Atlas Mountain Race, told us that he was going to race the French Divide on our new Fleecer Ridge dual-purpose knobbies, we were a little apprehensive. Yes, the tires are intended for bikepacking, but most riders think that the French Divide requires full-on mountain bike tires that are sturdy, heavy and slow. Sofiane thought that the speed of the Fleecers would help him on the smoother sections of the course. And we felt that our Endurance casing was up to the job.

This year’s French Divide turned into a very exciting race. With so many events world-wide canceled, a veritable Who-is-Who of Europe’s best racers lined up at the start in Dunkerque on the British Channel. Sofiane was one of the favorites, but he was concerned that after racing the 1,000-mile Three Peaks Race across the Dolomites and Alps just two weeks ago, he wasn’t well-rested.

By mid-race, three racers were battling for the lead: Sofiane, Lieven Schroyen and Manu Cattrysse, both from Belgium. By the half-way point, Sofiane took the lead, but Lieven was never more than an hour or two behind. Watching their dots move across the map of France was incredibly exciting. As the race entered its final phase in the Pyrenees, Sofiane stopped to sleep, and Lieven almost caught up with him. Rejuvenated by his 5-hour rest, Sofiane slowly pulled ahead. A few hours ago, he finished the race after a little over 8 days on the trail – setting a new course record in the process.

Well done Sofiane! And good luck to all the other riders who are still on the trail, on track to finish the race within the 15-day time limit.

Photo credits: Bidaia – Aubin Berthe (Photos 1 – 3), Sofiane Sehili (Photo 4), French Divide (Photos 5, 6).

5 Responses to Sofiane Wins French Divide!

  1. David Pearce August 17, 2020 at 9:39 am #

    Très Bien, M. Sehili, et très bien M. Réné Herse et M. Jan, aussi!!

    BIEN JOUÉ🖖🏼😎!

  2. Harry Travis August 17, 2020 at 12:43 pm #

    Jan: Any non-confidential advice to and with Sofiane on his tire inflation for this course? We know from his style the tires did not have a chance to cool down and rest!

    • Jan Heine August 17, 2020 at 1:09 pm #

      I think Sofiane is getting some well-earned rest right now, but we’ll catch up with him in the next days. We’re curious as well – he’s already said that the tires perform well for him, but more detailed feedback from such a hard test is extremely useful for us as we develop new tires.

    • Isha August 19, 2020 at 2:46 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      I realize you may not be an expert on mountainbiking but I was wondering if there are situations where you would consider the Fleecer Ridge suitable for mountainbiking. The trails in my neighborhood are more or less cross country terrain. I run 57mm tires and would prefer a little more, but some of my friends run 50mm tires. I can imagine the suppleness of the Fleecer Ridge might do more for grip and comfort than a few extra mm of width, and I’m sure they would be nicer on the asphalt to and from the trails.

      Are there other parameters than width that would make you hesitant to endorse the Fleecer Ridge for mountainbike riding?

      • Jan Heine August 19, 2020 at 2:57 pm #

        I think the main difference is that the Fleecers (and all our other tires) have a round profile, whereas many mountain bike tires have a square-ish profile. So if you are trying to climb out of a rut, the Fleecer won’t bite quite the same. On the other hand, the square profile means that cornering traction on hardpack (and pavement) can be unpredictable – you’ll want a round profile there.