By Jean-François Quénet in Châteaulin
Romain Feillu was the French sensation of the 2007 season, with four significant wins as a rookie in the pro peloton. He took out the Boucles de l'Aulne, a stage in the Tour of Luxembourg, the overall of the Tour of Britain and Paris-Bourges. He also participated in the Tour de France, the World Championships and the Chrono des Nations.
But his 2008 campaign was in limbo in January, when he was diagnosed with toxoplasmose. "I was left with no strength at all," the ambitious Agritubel rider recalled. He tried to be patient but he couldn't resume racing before mid-May at the Tour of Picardie, where he managed a top 10 performance in a bunch sprint; he really didn't expect a sixth place.
His second win in the Boucles de l'Aulne in Châteaulin was another surprise. "Every now and then, I still feel the weakness from the disease," he explained. "Last week, I wouldn't have been able to stay in the bunch for 20 kilometres. On Saturday in Plumelec, I pulled out with one lap to go but I was feeling good and I found the rhythm of the competition again. After that, I spent the whole night thinking of another win in Châteaulin."
Feillu has recovered quickly enough that his participation in the Tour de France can't be ruled out anymore, with one month to go. Last year, he got three top-10 finishes in bunch sprints (twice fifth and a ninth place) before pulling out in stage 9. "It wouldn't be giving him a service to take him to the Tour this year with the little foundations he has now," Agritubel's directeur sportif Frédéric Mainguenaud said in Châteaulin.
"I wouldn't be able to finish the Tour this year, that's for sure," Feillu echoed. "I'll still be bitter if I can't take the start. I presume it all depends on how I go at the Tour of Luxembourg and the French Championships. If I can't make it, I'll focus on further goals. There are other races later on, especially the World Championships, for which the national director Patrick Cluzaud has already told me on the phone during my time off the bike that he would count on me in Varese in September. The Olympics in Beijing, I don't even think about it. I can easily have troubles breathing. With the pollution in China, it would be too hard for me anyway."