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Tour de France’s Feillu Survives on Potatoes in Seeking Win

July 18, 2012

Tour de France rider Brice Feillu hasn’t given up on a stage win even after boiling down his cuisine to one staple: potatoes.

The 26-year-old Frenchman said he relied on spuds to get him through four days of the race after falling ill with gastroenteritis hours before the second stage on July 2. He lost 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) within two days.

Feillu battled on in today’s stage, when he finished fifth. His perseverance in an event in which more than one-fifth of the 198 starters have withdrawn with injury or sickness is partly because of money. He’s aiming for a win before the race ends, which could boost his salary next season.

“You never know, I could win a stage and double my money,” Feillu said in an interview at his team’s two-star hotel outside Pau yesterday.

A standout ride at the sport’s biggest stage races -- the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana -- can change a cyclist’s career trajectory, according to Daniel Malbranque, the former general secretary of the professional riders’ union. A mid-standings Tour rider typically earns 60,000 euros ($73,700) a year, Feillu said.

Chris Froome, who’s second overall through 15 of 20 stages this year, had his salary lifted to 1.2 million pounds ($1.9 million) by Team Sky after a runner-up finish at last year’s Vuelta, according to Richard Moore, the author of a book about the team titled “Sky’s the Limit.”

Froome rejected an offer of 100,000 pounds a year to renew before the Spanish race, Moore said.

2,173 Miles

Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins today kept his race lead of 2 minutes, 5 seconds over Froome in the first of two stages in the Pyrenees. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas stayed 18 seconds further back in third.

Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler won the stage. Feillu rode at the front of the field with Voeckler for almost half of the 122- mile stage only for his compatriot to pull away on the last of four climbs.

Feillu, who rides for the Saur-Sojasun team, said he has agreed on contract terms for next year, although they could change if he wins a stage. The race that covers 2,173 miles (3,497 kilometers) ends July 22 in Paris.

The Frenchman, who won a mountain stage at the 2009 Tour, fell ill with a 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) fever, and was suffering from vomiting and diarrhea before the second stage that began in Vise, Belgium. He phoned his girlfriend at 9 a.m. to say he expected to be heading to their home near Nice.

Empty Stomach

At 10.15 a.m., 15 minutes before the team left for the start line, Saur-Sojasun sports director Lylian Lebreton asked him to try and tackle the 129-mile flat stage on an empty stomach, Feillu said.

As he rode at the back of the field he doused his head in water to keep his fever at bay, and took vitamin drinks to avoid dehydration, he said.

“I felt terrible, very low,” Feillu said.

He ate potatoes the next day to settle his stomach and added a piece of chicken the following two days, he said. That was hardly enough: a potato only has about 150 calories of the 4,000 to 9,000 calories that the race’s cyclists burn each stage, Anne Guzman, a sports nutritionist at Bedford, Virginia- based Peaks Coaching Group, said by telephone.

Feillu and his teammates typically eat several plates of eggs, rice, cereal and brown bread at a pre-stage breakfast, and consume cereal and glucose bars while riding, according to former professional rider Xavier Jan, who is a physiotherapist on the Saur-Sojasun team.

Superhuman Effort

To be sure, money isn’t the sole incentive for Tour de France competitors, Malbranque said.

“The other reason is self-esteem,” he said. “Every rider wants to finish the race even if it requires a superhuman effort.”

Johnny Hoogerland, a Dutch rider with the Vacansoleil team, continued at last year’s Tour de France even after needing 33 stitches when a car veered into a group of cyclists and he was catapulted into a barbed-wire fence.

At the time, Hoogerland held the polka-dot jersey as the top-ranked climber.

Feillu said yesterday he’s feeling better and has regained a kilo in weight, although he’s lost some of his form. Even if he fails to get a stage win, he said he’s demonstrated to his bosses that he has the necessary character.

“You have to be hard to be a cyclist,” said Jan, the former pro rider. “It goes with the job.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Pau, France, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at

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