So who is this crazy person then?! Well, I’m Kevin Francis, I am 49 later this year and live just outside Canterbury – not very far from the coast, the English Channel and of course France! I live with the most tolerant person I know – Jo, who has put up with all sorts of bike paraphernalia in the house not to mention the never ending training rides, planning, research and just talking non-stop about the big ride in August….!
I am a Freelance Event Manager and travel around the world running corporate events. I have some amazing clients and am fortunate enough to do some really cool stuff as well as being able to fit in the massive amount of training needed for the French Divide.
Naturally I was already a keen cyclist but I was looking for a new and BIG challenge and I think I have found one!
2018 sees the third running of the French Divide, an ultra-distance bikepacking brevet (a cycling adventure without assistance). It is one of a new breed of event that is all about the adventure and experience that will give 150 cyclists the chance to ride the whole length of France – most of it off-road. There is fixed route with a total distance of 2275 kilometres and a whopping 32000 metres of vertical elevation that’s 32 kilometres or in ‘old money’ 20 miles straight up!
We start on the 4th August at 6:24am in Bray Dunes near Dunkirk before briefly heading into Belgium to ride some of the most revered and feared cobbled roads of cycling folklore. From here we head south through the Massif Central and then towards the Spanish border, skirting the Pyrenees and finishing in Mendionde in the Pays Basque region.
Bikepacking is an evolved form of cycle touring – think backpacking on a bike rather than walking. Carrying everything you need to live and survive during your journey but doing it as lightweight and minimally as possible.
The French Divide is an unsupported brevet – there are no support vehicles, no outside help is allowed during it – we are on our own. The only time we will see any of the organisers of the event other than the start and finish are at the three checkpoints that must be passed through en route. Once the clock starts it doesn’t stop again until the finish – so every minute stopped to eat, sleep, sort a mechanical issue or go to the loo is all part of our total time. All the while the GPS spot tracker attached to the bike will be sending a signal every five minutes that will let the world know where I am and allow you to observe and enjoy my suffering from the comfort of your sofa via the Trackleaders website!
There is a maximum time limit of fifteen days to complete the distance. I think I can do it in a bit less than that but ask me again on the 18th August…..
I have been fascinated by ultra-distance events for a while now. The super-human things that people can do amaze and inspire me to push myself and see how far I can and understand what I am capable of. Now at 48 and being slightly aero-dynamically challenged I am never going to be the fastest person on a bike but when it comes to stamina, endurance and the ability to go without sleep, my whole career in the world of hotels, hospitality and events will, I think serve me well! This has given me the ability to grind out the miles over a sustained period of time and hopefully I can use this to my advantage.
A year ago I volunteered on the Transcontinental Race – another ultra-endurance cycling road race across Europe. By the end of it I was determined I would do something like this myself and although my road cycling has reduced following a crash a year and half ago my mountain biking has flourished and with the right bike and controls the injuries I sustained have not stopped me from riding. Plus it was an excuse to build a new bike and no cyclist will turn down that opportunity!
I was lucky enough to get a place in the start list and since then life has pretty much revolved around the Divide. As I write this in mid June of 2018 I feel ready and would actually be really happy if it were to start now and not in eight weeks time.