Sprinter Romain Feillu is one of the more exciting talents to emerge in French cycling over the last few seasons. An early sign of his potential came when he finished second behind Gerhard Ciolek in the U23 road race at the World Championship in Salzburg. Currently 24 years old, Feillu rides for Agritubel and wore the Yellow Jersey during the 2008 Tour de France. He has victories in several French races, but has yet to score an international win at the elite level. With three third places in Tour stages last year, his is tantalizingly close to the big time. In an interview with L'Équipe, Feillu shared his ambitions for the season, his thoughts about racing tactics, and his happiness with his younger brother's presence at Agritubel.
Last year, Feillu's lost the early season to a case of toxoplasmosis. He rebounded just in time to win the Boucles de l'Aulne in June, a victory that secured him a spot on the Agritubel Tour roster. This year, Feillu will begin his season at the Grand Prix La Marseillaise in France. Then, he rides the short stage race, Tour de Méditerranéen. He views both races as tune-ups for a trip to Belgium where he will ride Omloop Het Nieuws Blatt (the race formerly known as Omloop Het Volk) and the sprinters' semi-classic, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. This season will mark his first trip to the Belgian races. The flat finish at Kuurne should suit his talents well, though he will be looking more toward building form to chase stage wins at Paris-Nice. He called the French early season stage race "a nice course," where "there are some opportunities to win a stage." Because he rides for a French team, Feillu will also contest most of the Coupe de France races during the season.
Then, there is the Tour de France. Though he has yet to record a stage victory at the Tour, Feillu has shown an affinity for the July race. In 2007 during his first Tour, Feillu placed fifth in two stages, challenging the likes of Tom Boonen and Oscar Freire in the final kilometer. In 2008, Feillu finished third in three stages. More importantly, as a result of a long breakaway effort, he took the Yellow Jersey on Stage 3, won by Samuel Dumoulin. "July 14th In Advance," headlined L'Equipe, celebrating the young French rider's success.
This year, he says he feels more pressure to ride well not only in July, but also throughout the season. For one thing, he has become more recognized by the French public. "I will lose some respect from the spectators, if I do not show myself in the early races," he told L'Equipe. At the same time, the team is not putting any pressure on him to get results. "I put it on myself," he admitted.
The hoped-for win may not come in a bunch sprint, though Feillu is generally characterized as a sprinter. In 2008, his big success in July came from a long breakaway. "It pleases me to be a bit variable in my way of riding," he explained. "I like to race by feel" and "to try escapes when it feels right," he said. He described winning from a break as a "different pleasure" from winning a sprint. "It is necessary to have some luck, but also it is a question of instinct," said Feillu of attacking. "At the moment, when the others are discouraged, me, I continue." As he notes, his decision to join the break at last year's Tour de France certainly paid off.
Currently, Roman Feillu is training with his Agritubel team in the Var region of France. He described his form as "not yet there," but is for now unconcerned. The unusually cold weather in Northern Europe has interrupted his training some, but the beginning of the season is not his main objective, so he has time yet before he must be on good form. Feillu's brother Brice has also joined Agritubel this season, much to Romain's happiness. They have a good relationship, he reported, because Brice admires his ability in the sprints, while he admires his brother's ability to climb.
Look for Romain Feillu to finish well at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and perhaps take a stage at Paris-Nice. Then, of course, he will be looking to build on his already successful Tour de France career with a stage victory. French speakers can follow his adventures on his bloggy, which he keeps reasonably up to date. Currently, there is a photo of a very snowy French road. Bonne chance, Romain!
Interview by Anthony Thomas, L'Équipe.fr. Translation by Gav.