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).