In the press conference after stage seven to the ski station of Arcalís, the young Agritubel rider was speechless. Brice Feillu, 23 years of age, had won the first mountain stage of this year's Tour in his first season as a professional rider, and didn't realise it at all.
After spending the day in a breakaway, the younger of the Feillu brothers was able to distance his rivals in the last few kilometres of the final climb, and the overall favourites' group around the Astana team did not come back on them as expected.
There are a lot of "firsts" in this story: first pro season, first Tour de France, first mountain stage, first victory. On top of all that, Feillu took the polka dot jersey of best climber - no wonder he was overwhelmed. "This stage win is great... it hasn't sunk in at all," Feillu said when he recovered his voice.
The Agritubel rider, not to be mistaken with his older brother Romain Feillu, escaped the bunch early on in the stage together with eight other riders. As they powered through the Pyrenees, their advantage over the bunch was sufficient to make them reach the foot of the final climb with a considerable lead.
With five kilometres to go, Feillu attacked his breakaway mates. "There was sort of a dead moment, and I thought that this was the right moment to attack," he explained. "I believed I had a chance, as it was a finale to my taste."
The stage winner got a 10-second gap over the remainder of the break, namely Christophe Kern (Cofidis) and Johannes Fröhlinger (Milram), but also Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), who took the yellow jersey. "With four kilometres to go, the gap was still the same. Then, it increased about ten seconds every kilometre, but in the last kilometre, it went down again and I got really frightened. I really dug deep then."
Feillu already scored many victories in the amateur ranks, but he was overwhelmed as he realised he was going to win a stage of the Tour de France. "There are just so many people in every curve, sometimes you almost can't pass, the motorbikes are honking their horns... It's an incredible feeling. You really feel like you can fly. But you also resist that feeling, thinking about the next gap your DS will give you in the earpiece," he said about how he felt in those last curves towards a Tour stage win.
"To participate in my first Tour de France is awesome, but there was also a lot of apprehension. The pressure is on, especially since I am a neo-pro. But I felt good after the French championships, and confirmed to my sports directors that I wanted to do it."
Now, Feillu's next goal will be to keep the polka dot jersey, and to take it to Paris. "It would be a dream come true, what's more, it would be on my birthday!" The young climber will be 24 on July 26.
Feillu will "share the moment" with his brother Romain, with whom he rooms at the Tour. Romain Feillu wore the Tour's yellow jersey last year, so the two brothers will certainly have something to celebrate Friday night.
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