By Jean-François Quénet in Gent
French teams usually line up a young gun in the Tour de France because freshness pays off when the time comes to be excited by the huge crowds for the first time. Agritubel had no problem choosing Romain Feillu for their Tour squad after he won the Boucles de l'Aulne and one stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in June. These results extended out of a strong spring for the 23 year-old neo-pro. He began the season aggressively, picking up a top ten at the Tour of Qatar, and another at Paris-Nice, where he also thrilling the schoolboys of his sister's class in Cloyes-sur-le-Loir with a early breakaway in stage one that lead until the last kilometre.
"I don't want to waste my time in the bunch," he said in March, explaining his philosophy of cycling. The Tour de France is another story. "Coming twice fifth in the first two bunch sprints teaches me that I can wait for the bunch sprint finishes and do something there," he explained on the finishing line in Gent. "I'm more confident now. I've showed that I can become a good sprinter. In France, there is a spot to be filled up, I'd like to do it. In one or two years time, with muscle work out, I should improve."
For different reasons, France's recent Tour stage winning sprinters, Jean-Patrick Nazon and Jimmy Casper, aren't riding the Tour this year, and Feillu is trying to fill that void. "I'm told I don't have the format of a sprinter but I don't care about that," Feillu said. At 1.74m tall and 62kg, Feillu is called 'le petit Feillu', but he showed his world class standard when he came second to Gerald Ciolek at last year's U23 world championship in Salzburg, Austria.
He had signed for Agritubel before that result, coming from the successful French amateur club of Nogent-sur-Oise in Picardy (the region where the Tour de France arrives on stage three in Compiègne), but he rode for Agritubel sponsored VC Loudun previously. He wasn't ready to turn pro when the tubes manufacturer started their pro team in 2005. Because of a scooter accident when he was a kid, he had to undergo an operation to get his right leg longer at the same size as the left one. "I'm happy that I didn't turn pro too early", the 23 years old said. "But I also don't want to lose any time in my career." France has a very determined sprinter now, although his physique is far from looking as impressive as Tom Boonen's or Thor Hushovd's.