Who are those crazy people riding the French Divide 2018?

This first portrait is all about Philip, FD2017 rider, who decided to quit last year before CP2. Quitting is never an easy decision so we thought it would be very interesting to share his thoughts and learnings about his unfinished business. Enjoy the read!

Photo: Delphine Lebon

→ Hi Philip, could you introduce yourself?
I’m Philip Malcolm, I’m British (but I live in Ghent, the greatest city in the world!), 36 years old and I work for a company making malt for all your favourite beers.

→ What kind of rider are you? 
I only own 2 bikes. One is my race bike and the other my adventure bike. It’s a Soma Wolverine called the Orange Monster. When me and my wife separated last year, it was the first thing I rescued.

I started cycling when I was 16, I was a strange child and like to disappear alone into the countryside where I grew up. From that, I think I have raced every discipline there is: road, time trial, MTB, cross…

I was always a road racer at heart, but the last 2 years I find the mountain bike is what gets me excited.

“Quitting sucks, but sometimes you have to do it.”

→ So last year you were on the departure line of the French Divide but unfortunately you couldn’t make it to the end. So how did you feel about that?
Quitting sucks, but sometimes you have to do it. Last year I knew that I had 18 hours to get to CP2 before it closed (the deadline was super tight for the Sunday departure) and I injured my Achilles tendon running up a hill. For the next 3 days it just got worse and worse until I got to Moulins and I couldn’t walk anymore. I remembered what Celine said at the briefing about there being no support from anybody if it went wrong and making smart decisions because of that and I decided that I didn’t want to go into the mountains if I wasn’t sure I could come out of the other side. It hurt but I knew I was making the right decision.

→ What did you learn from that experience?
How to tape my Achilles! But also I learned so much in a week on the French Divide. I learned that you can always do more than you think you can, I learned how to change disc brake pads in a field in the dark and I learned that there’s always time for an ice cream.

 → And what about this year, you decided to take your revenge? 
“Revenge” isn’t a word that ever crossed my mind. For me, this is just about finishing something that I poured months and months into last year and have a great time doing it. I had never done anything like French Divide before and I think I may have over prepared. I spent hours comparing the GPS trace to Google Maps to find out where the shops I could buy food were, stuff like that.

“If everything is planned it’s not an adventure anymore.”

This year, I’ve tried to let go a little bit more. A friend said to me that if everything is planned it’s not an adventure anymore and the biggest thing I learned last year is that stuff is going to go wrong in ways you can’t predict and your plan won’t last until lunch on Day 1. So this year I’m going in a lot more relaxed and focussing on enjoying the experience.

Photo: Delphine Lebon

→ What are you expecting from that adventure?
I set myself the goal of finishing in 10 days last year so that would be a dream. But really, I just want to finish. I like that the course is different this year because part of me was worried I wouldn’t be motivated to ride 1200km to get to where I stopped last year.

“No pressure, no expectations” is my motto this year.

→ What is your bikepacking experience?
I decided to do French Divide in the car on the way home from a race in the Belgian Ardennnes in December 2016. Before then I had never done any bike packing. My friend who was driving said he would also ride but he backed out…

So I learned from scratch by asking people, buying the gear I could afford and testing it lots. There were some people whose riding and writing inspired me and I was lucky enough that guys like Josh Kato took the time to respond to a stranger messaging them on Facebook for advice.

This year I already rode (and scratched again ☹) at Italy Divide and by the time you read this I’ll have completed Veneto Trail in a fast time 😉

→ For a few years now, no assistance ultra-cycling has become something quite important, any thoughts about why?
I think our sport offers a unique thing in the modern world of being completely responsible for yourself. If you fail, you really can’t look to anything other than your own planning, training or performance. Also, I think the bike is the best way to travel through anywhere. It’s fast enough to cover a long distance, you’re still physically interacting with the environment and it’s slow enough to take in the experience.

“[Bikepacking] is a fantastic community of true individuals and I’m proud to be part of it”

The more people I meet through bikepacking, the more I see a certain type of personality. I think we’re normally quite positive people, but quite introverted and we don’t really fit in to what most people would call normal. It’s a fantastic community of true individuals and I’m proud to be part of it.

→ What is you best cycling souvenir?
My French Divide gapette with my name on it, of course!

→ What is your training for the French Divide?
Everybody who knows me will tell you that I am totally disorganised in every aspect of my life except training. I really structure my training and get obsessed with detail. I don’t do crazy distances, just one or two overnight trips with 200km days or so. I came to the start last year in perfect condition, so I think I can get it right again this year.

That’s not to say it’s been an easy time getting to that point. In October last year I broke up with my wife and then broke my pelvis in 3 places a month later. That put me off the bike for 2 months. After that I seem to have broken every part of a bike it’s possible to break. I’m just hoping my bad luck ends before August.

Photo: Delphine Lebon

→ What bike will you ride for the FD2018 and why?
The Orange Monster will be back this year. It’s a steel cyclocross frame with space for MTB tires. He had to sit out Italy divide after I broke my derailleur three hours before the start so I can’t wait to get back out there on my favourite bike.

→ What would be your ONLY advice for the other participants?
Remember to enjoy the moment and don’t get caught up in schedules. If you want to stop for a beer or whatever, do it. It’s supposed to be fun.

“If you want to stop for a beer or whatever, DO IT”

→ Do your have any sponsors or support?
No sponsors this year except the Bali Night Shop who sell my Samosas.

But I’d also like to mention my girlfriend Delphine, who supports my adventures completely, the Robocyclo family and my real family, I think my mother finds dot watching more stressful than I find riding.

Thank you Philip for taking the time to sharing this with us!
The FD team wishes you the best luck for your adventure.
PS: don’t forget your load of samossas :p