The Comeback (Film)

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“The Comeback” is a new short film that chronicles Sofiane Sehili’s recovery from injury and return to ultra-endurance racing in the 2021 Trans Pyrenees Race after a collision with a car kept him off the bike for three months. Watch it here, along with a candid reflection from Sofiane about how the experience changed him…

Words by Sofiane Sehili, film and photos by JP Mothes

In December 2020, after the most successful season of my ultra-cycling career, I got injured while working as a bike courier in my home city of Paris. I hit a truck that had stopped suddenly in the middle of the street, broke my knee, and had to get surgery right away. The surgeon described my injury as “a very complex fracture.” He prescribed three months of physiotherapy and was adamant that I should not set foot on the ground for eight weeks.

I spent some of the darkest hours of my life in this hospital room wondering why this was happening to me and if I had ruined my career as a competitive bikepacker. Even though the accident wasn’t my fault, I felt terribly guilty for not having been able to avoid it. Going home and starting PT, I channeled this negative energy into something positive: my recovery. I worked five times a week with my physio, and on the weekend, I would repeat the exercises we had done, at home, by myself.

  • Sofiane Sehili
  • Sofiane Sehili

After seven weeks, she cleared me to do some light pedaling on the home trainer. From then on, I started riding the trainer almost daily for an hour or two. The surgeon allowed me to get rid of the crutches a week later, and I then had to re-learn how to walk—with a limp first, and then better and better. I still had to wait another three weeks to be authorized to ride my bike outside. I kept riding the trainer, which was very frustrating.

Even though I turned into an athlete these last few years, I’m first and foremost a bikepacker, and riding for me has always been much more about the joy of being outside than the discipline of training to get faster.
It’s hard to describe what I felt when I could finally get back on an actual bike and ride outside. When you do it all the time, you forget how incredibly smooth, fast, fluid, almost miraculous cycling is.

Sofiane Sehili

I started going on longer and longer rides. Sometimes I did too much and had to step down a little bit, allowing my knee to grow stronger between training sessions. I always kept this goal of coming back to racing with a road ultra in mind, either late spring or early summer. When Transpyrenees came, everything felt very uncertain, and I had no idea if I would be able to finish. I was thankful for being able to ride my bike, but I was nonetheless eager to find out if I could still race.

  • Sofiane Sehili
  • Sofiane Sehili

Despite a long career as a bike courier, this fracture was my first serious injury. My first broken bone ever, in fact, and I had no idea how traumatic it actually is. I spent long sleepless hours in my bed, aching and thinking about how fragile I was, how human I was, how mortal I was. Ironic after so many people had called me “machine” or “robot.” It’s not just my leg that broke; it was also a feeling of invincibility. I’m much more nervous in traffic now, and I don’t think I could ever go back to being a courier. But, on the other hand, I also now have a much more healthy approach to racing. I’m much less obsessed with winning and more able to focus on the joy and the privilege of being out there, riding hard, and sharing stories with my community.

I don’t think you can go through such a gruesome injury and long recovery and come back unchanged. How you change, however, is entirely up to you. These accidents don’t make sense and happen for no reason. It is best not to dwell on the why, as there’s no answer. Pick yourself up and do everything in your power to fix your body. In doing so, you will also heal your mind. Of course, I could go back in time and prevent the accident from happening, I would. But I can’t, so I learn to live with a titanium rod screwed to my shin bone. It’s a reminder that I’m not unbreakable and that the worst day on the bike is still a thousand times better than the best day in a hospital bed.

Sofiane Sehili

About Sofiane Sehili

Sofiane Sehili is an ultra-endurance racer and adventure cyclist based in Paris, France. Since 2010, he’s toured over 100,000 kilometers, visiting more than 40 countries on five continents. In 2016, he took part in his first bikepacking race: Tour Divide, from Canada, across the USA, all the way to the Mexican border, marking the beginning of his career as an ultra-endurance athlete. He lives and breathes for cycling—a pure and unaltered passion that has shaped his life for the past ten years. Find him on Instagram @sofianeshl.

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