Sofiane Sehili: The ultimate authority in ultra endurance cycling

June 17, 2024

On the occasion of the Bicycle Adventure Meeting in Mantova, Italy, we got the chance to chat at length with Sofiane Sehili, Brand Ambassador for KS. This was a great opportunity for us to ask him some questions about his background and his thoughts on the sport. Discover how KS cutting-edge technology enhances performance and comfort on the toughest terrains.

– Sofiane, to start with, what got you into ultra-cycling? How did you start in the sport?
I started as a bikepacker. I went on several bikepacking tours and began bike touring in Southeast Asia. I bought a bike in Thailand and rode all over Southeast Asia for two consecutive winters. Then, I became a bike messenger in Paris. That’s when I first heard about ultra-cycling and became curious about my potential in that world. I enjoyed the experience of bike touring and had gained a lot of fitness from being a bike messenger, riding my bike four to five days a week. I wanted to see if I could excel in ultra-cycling. In 2016, I entered my first bikepacking race, the Tour Divide, which starts in Canada and goes all the way to the Mexican border in New Mexico. It’s about four thousand five hundred kilometers long. I finished third in my first bikepacking race and was instantly hooked. Eight years later, I’m still passionate about bikepacking.

– What qualities do you think are essential for a good ultra-cyclist?
A lot of what happens in these races is mental. Of course, you need to be a good cyclist, fit, and in good shape, but you don’t need to be the fastest. It’s more about how long you can keep going, how long you can sleep, and how much you can push through the really hard moments. I don’t consider myself the fastest or fittest cyclist, but I always find a way to win because I want it really bad and just keep pushing through. When I want to stop, I slow down instead. That mental strength is where I make a difference. The main quality is resilience and the ability to keep pushing even when completely exhausted. Of course, being a good athlete, being organized, and having mechanical skills are important, but mental strength is the most crucial.

– Is there an achievement you’re particularly proud of in your ultra-cyclist career?
My career spans eight years, and I’ve won one of the hardest and most prestigious races on the circuit: the Silk Road Mountain Race, three years in a row (2021, 2022, and 2023). This race is special to me and possibly the most challenging because it takes place in Central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan. It’s hard to find supplies along the way, the roads are rough, and you’re constantly at high elevation, up to 4,200 meters above sea level. The trail is slow, and the temperature differences are extreme. It’s wild, empty, and you cross hundreds of kilometers without seeing anyone. It’s magical and beautiful. Winning it three times is something I am immensely proud of.

– How do you handle setbacks or big problems in such an environment?
In my first Silk Road Mountain Race, I had mechanical troubles with my wheel. The spoke nipples broke one by one until the wheel wouldn’t turn anymore. I walked for about four hours until I reached a yurt camp, where I hired a taxi to the nearest village. There, I found a hardware store with spoke nipples. I replaced all the spoke nipples, rebuilt my wheel, and got back in the taxi to return to where I had stopped. It took me about eight hours to fix that mechanical issue. Luckily, I was ahead when it happened and managed to hold onto some of my lead, eventually winning the race.

– You said you may not be the fastest or fittest rider. What’s your typical week as an ultra-cyclist when you prepare for an event? How do you train?
I’m rather untypical because I don’t follow a scheduled training plan or have a coach. I just ride my bike a lot. My lifestyle revolves around my bike. I live in the countryside and have several bicycles. I ride road, gravel, mountain bikes, and use a cargo bike for groceries. I go on bikepacking trips and ride as much as I can without working towards a specific fitness goal or doing interval training. I just love to ride my bike and travel with it.

– Wow, that sounds easy. I think I’ll try! You’ve had an eight-year career as an ultra-cyclist. How have you seen the sport change with the rise of bikepacking?
When I started in 2016, there were maybe four or five races to enter. Since then, the number of races has grown significantly. Now there are hundreds of races worldwide, ranging from 24-hour events to those lasting two or three weeks. The sport is still niche but becoming more popular, especially with the advent of gravel riding and racing. The two worlds overlap, with many people from traditional gravel racing expanding into ultra-cycling. It went from a few hundred people to thousands in just a few years.

– How do technological advancements in products impact your cycling and the sport in general?
When I started, there were virtually no gravel bikes. Now, with the advent of gravel riding and racing, ultra-cyclists benefit from new technologies focused on comfort, like suspension seatposts and wider tires. Most of my racing is off-road, so anything that can dampen vibrations is crucial. Technological innovations derived from mountain biking and translated to gravel riding have made a big difference, making multi-day races easier.

– With KS, we are bringing more products into the gravel world. We’ll have a special bike check with Sofiane in a separate video where he can tell us how suspension products improve his bike and ride. What current projects or races are you excited about? Have you planned something after the BAM?
I’ve been doing this for a long time and have won most major races. There are a few races I’m still curious to try. One in Arizona along the Arizona Trail is about 1,500 kilometers long, and I’m excited about it. It’s pretty technical, and I plan to race there in October. I also have an idea about attempting world records, like crossing all of Europe and Asia. There are a few world records that are still waiting to be beaten, and I’m very interested in those long rides. It’s something I might pursue next year.

– Last question: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start ultra-cycling?
The most important part is to have realistic goals. Some people can enter the scene aiming to be among the fastest right away, while others need time to grow. Find out if your goal is to finish, be in the top 10, or reach the podium. Once you assess your abilities, work towards those goals and prepare. If you’ve never spent 18 hours in the saddle, do it at least once or twice to see how your body reacts. Understand the pressure points on your hands, feet, and saddle. Emulate what you’ll do during the race. Being realistic and well-prepared is key.

– Sounds great. Thank you, Sofiane. It was really good to have you. I think you are inspiring a lot of people, and it’s great to have you on board with KS. Thank you, folks, for watching. More news on KS and gravel in the next videos. Bye from Mantova!

Rider: Sofiane Sehili
Photos: Alessio Soggetti / Theatre des Operations
KS product: Rage-i S / KG Drop 2.0 / GTC fork / Ether gravel stem / Ether carbon gravel bar