Pierrick Fedrigo bested Christian Vande Velde in a two-man sprint to claim the 15th stage. (Photos: Bettini)
FDJ rider Pierrick Fedrigo leaned on the French connection to give the hosts their fourth win of the Tour de France at the end of the 158.5km, 15th stage between Samatan and Pau on Monday. Race leader Bradley Wiggins of Britain and the main peloton came over the finish line nearly 12 minutes behind a six-man breakaway that had fought hard to form after a frantic opening to the stage.
Team Sky leader Wiggins came under no threat during the undulating stage from the Gers region to the foot of the Pyrenees where the peloton will spend the race's second rest day Tuesday. The Englishman still has a 2min 05sec lead over teammate Chris Froome, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali in third at 2:23 and Australian Cadel Evans fourth at 3:19. On what was one of the last chances for the sprinters to shine on a flat finish, including Wiggins' world champion teammate Mark Cavendish, it became clear the yellow jersey takes precedence.
Asked why Sky had not helped the other sprinters' teams to form an effective chase, the Englishman replied, "It wasn't flat. There were 2000 metres of climbing in 150 km! GreenEdge said they didn't want to ride today. Lotto initially said they didn't want to ride and after the feed they put two riders up to ride, so we had four. Then we made the decision that with four guys chasing six in front we were never going to get it back quick enough on those roads, because it was so up and down. So we shut it down and then Lotto soon shut it down. So that was the end of that."
It left the six-man group, which contained another two Frenchmen in Europcar's Thomas Voeckler and Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, to ride into Pau unhindered. When Fedrigo surged ahead with 6.5 km remaining and was countered by Vande Velde, they left Voeckler, Dumoulin, Dane Nicki Sorensen and Belgian Dries Devenyns behind for good. Fedrigo then finished the job by dominating Christian Vande Velde in a two-up sprint to leave the American still winless as an individual on the race in nine participations.
"It's unbelievable," said a subdued Fedrigo, whose last win on the race was in Pau in 2010, after which he spent six months sidelined with Lyme's disease. "When you're racing the Tour, you need luck. And some days you just get the feeling it can be your day. I don't know why I attacked, it was just instinct. But when Vande Velde stopped giving me relays in the last kilometre I knew that it would soon have to sprint. Thankfully, I've got a little more punch than him."
The French connection, meanwhile, did not go unnoticed. "I wouldn't say there was an alliance between them, but they are from the same country and they would have preferred one of their guys to win," said Saxo Bank veteran Sorensen. Voeckler, who claimed his own fourth stage win of the race on stage 10, a day before teammate Pierre Rolland won stage 11, said his relative lack of power in a group sprint had made the decision for him: "I just told Pierrick that if he attacked I wouldn't budge, to make the
others work," said Voeckler, who spent several seasons in the same team as
Fedrigo. In a sprint I couldn't match him or Dumoulin. I would have preferred a Europcar rider to win but failing that he was the next best choice."
The race resumes Wednesday when the mountainous 197 km 16th stage takes the peloton over two unclassified and two category one climbs to a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. And although it will soon be D-day for Wiggins, he says he is still taking it one day at a time: I just always look one day at a time. It's just my way of not ever thinking too far ahead," he said. "I always think if you start looking too far ahead you forget what's in front of you."
The 15th stage of the Tour de France finished in the scenic city of Pau.
THE TOUR LOSES SIX MORE
A further six riders pulled out of the Tour de France Monday which finished in Pau with 156 of the 1988 starters still in the field. French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel, suffering a chest infection and struggling to breathe despite taking antibiotics for three days, abandoned less than 50km into the 158.5km ride from Samatan. His team sports director, Brian Holm, said: "He's lost his voice and he'd been finding it hard to breathe. This morning he was really sick. He spoke with the doctors of the team and they've advised him it would be best to pull out of the Tour."
Orica-GreenEdge rider Brett Lancaster followed suit, the Australian pulling out before the halfway stage. Orica-GreenEdge, Australia's first elite level professional team and making their race debut, are now down to eight men for the remaining five stages. Lancaster had spent the past two weeks trying to help Australian compatriot Matt Goss claim his maiden Tour de France stage win. A Twitter post from his team said Lancaster "had been dealing with significant lingering pain from his crash on Saturday."
The French Europcar team meanwhile lost two of its riders, with Giovanni Bernaudeau - the son of team manager and namesake Jean-Rene - and Vincent Jerome getting off their bikes and into their team cars. FDJ, who won the stage thanks to Pierrick Fedrigo, also lost their main sprinter Yauheni Hutarovich of Belarus. The casualty list was completed by Dutchman Kenny Van Hummel, who became the fifth Vacansoleil rider to leave the race and leaves just four - like fellow Dutch team Rabobank - of his teammates remaining.
Tour de France leader, Bradley Wiggins, and last year's champion, Cadel Evans, rolled into Pau with the rest of the peloton.
RESULTS - STAGE 15
1. Pierrick Fedrigo (FRA/FDJ) at 3hr 40min 15sec (average speed: 43.2 km/h)
2. Christian Vande Velde (USA/GRM) at 0:00
3. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) 0:12sec
4. Nicki Sorensen (DEN/SAX) 0:12
5. Dries Devenyns (BEL/OPQ) 0:21
6. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/COF) 01:08
7. Andre Greipel (GER/LTB) 11:50
8. Tyler Farrar (USA/GRM) 11:50
9. Peter Sagan (SVK/LIQ) 11:50
10. Kris Boeckmans (BEL/VAC) 11:50
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION - after STAGE 15
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) at 68hr 33min 21sec
2. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) at 2min 05sec
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) 2:23
4. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) 3:19
5. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LTB) 4:48
6. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) 6:15
7. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 6:57
8. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/AST) 7:30
9. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 8:31
10. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) 8:51