FDJ-BigMat's Pierrick Fédrigo, winner of a Tour de France stage in Pau in 2010, repeated that feat this afternoon, winning Stage 15 of the 99th edition of the race which finished in the same city. The 33-year-old, who now has four career Tour de France stage wins to his name, had attacked from a six-man breakaway group with a little over six kilometres of the 158.5 kilometre stage from Samatan to go. Only Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde was able to respond to that attack, but despite sitting on Fédrigo's wheel for the final kilometre, the Frenchman held him off to take the win. Europcar's Thomas Voeckler finished third. The peloton, led by Lotto-Belisol's André Greipel who was unable to celebrate his 30th birthday with what would have been his fourth stage win in this year's race, rolled over 12 minutes after the winner and included overall leader Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky.
Expectations had been that today's stage would end in a bunch sprint, and it seemed to be heading that way as the peloton, led by Team Sky with world champion Mark Cavendish sitting last wheel, entered the final 50 kilometres around five minutes down on the escapees. However, over the next few kilometres the main bunch eased off the pace and it quickly became apparent that the stage win would go to a member of the break.
That small group which would eventually produce the day’s winner had formed with a little under 100 kilometres still to ride, with Fédrigo, Vande Velde and Voeckler getting clear with Dries Devenyns of Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Cofidis rider Samuel Dumoulin shortly after an earlier break had been brought back. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Nikki Sorensen would subsequently bridge across to complete the group of six.
Unusually for a stage finishing in Pau, today’s route didn’t take the race up into the high Pyrenees, as it had done two years ago when Fedrigo took his previous win here, with just two Category four ascents sandwiching a Category 3 climb on today’s profile.
Voeckler, who spent a day in the polka dot jersey after his Stage 10 win at Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, was the first rider over each of those climbs, although the four points he took only leave him in fourth place in the mountains classification, 32 points behind current leader Fredrik Kessiakoff of Astana. There are a lot of points to be fought over in the Pyrenees later this week, however.
Today’s intermediate sprint had come shortly before the first of those climbs at Maubourguet, with 57 kilometres still to ride.
Sorensen was the first rider across from the break, and as the peloton headed towards it, any thoughts that Orica-GreenEdge or Lotto-Belisol might look to set up Matt Goss and Greipel respectively as they looked to close the gap on runaway leader Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale were dispelled as the 22-year-old Slovak was allowed to take the remaining points uncontested.
As well as signifying the rival teams' acceptance of Sagan’s likely victory in the points classification, that pretty much ended the day’s exertions for all but the six escapees ahead of tomorrow’s second rest day of this year’s Tour in Pau, where two years ago Alberto Contador provided the urine sample that would test positive for clenbuterol and ultimately see him banned and stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title.
Missing from the start in Samatan this morning was Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski, who suffered a broken collarbone yesterday as a result of crashing due to the tacks that had been spread across the road close to the top of the final climb. Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, FDJ's Yauheni Hutarovich and Orica-GreenEdge’s Brett Lancaster also abandoned during the stage.
Racing resumes on Wednesday with the first of two big mountain stages in the Pyrenees that will represent the last realistic opportunities for Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans to prevent a Team Sky one-two on the podium in Paris on Sunday.
Wedesday’s Stage 16 from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon features some of the most fabled climbs of the Pyrenees including the Col d’Aubisque, the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde ahead of a 17.5 kilometre descent to the finish.
That is followed on Thursday by a summit finish at Peyragudes, preceded by the Hors-Categorie Port de Balès. Friday’s Stage 17 to Brive-la-Gaillarde should, in theory, end in a bunch sprint, although that wasn’t the case today, and will be followed by Saturday’s 53.5 kilometre individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres.
With Wiggins and Chris Froome dominating the Stage 9 time trial earlier in the race, their closest challengers will need to take significant time back in the mountains if this year’s Tour is not to end with a British winner for the first time in the 109-year history of the race.
Stage winner Pierrick Fédrigo, FDJ-BigMat:
"There are days like this, when one feels that something will happen. And the closer it got, the more motivated I got. When we found ourselves up front with strong riders like Vande Velde and Sorensen, a cunning man like Voeckler, and a fast sprinter like Dumoulin, it is complicated to create a strategy. Sometimes I have to wait a bit to decide how to manage it all. This time I launched the last attack with five kilometres to go. I was going on feel, and I thought it was the right time. And then we had to hang on to our advantage and I bet everything on the sprint [against Vande Velde].
“Each stage that I have won offers something special. The first is always moving. The second was in Tarbes, a few miles from my house, which obviously makes it memorable. The third was the Queen Stage of the Pyrenees in 2010, with the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, Aspin and Soulor mountain passes – they are beautiful places for me as I'm from this region. And this is the victory of a comeback after a year of illness, and that means a lot.
“What I had last year [Fédrigo was struck by Lyme disease, which he believe was picked up from a tick bite while out hunting], was more difficult to cope with than riding the Tour de France. Of course we know the painful moments of the race, but the disease has taught me to suffer differently.
“There were 198 riders in the Tour, and there are 21 stages and there isn't something for everyone – and even less for riders like me. So when you get to win on this kind of stage, when we have targeted it, the satisfaction is even greater. The team started winning with Thibaut Pinot in the first week, and that took some pressure off me. Now we still have to defend his 10th place overall, and why not to take him a little higher. So I will continue to stand beside him to help.”
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
“Mark [Cavendish] has been fantastic these last two and a half weeks. He's been so committed to my cause – to the yellow jersey – and he's a great champion and a great friend. Obviously there is still the stage to Paris for him and we're going to lay it down in Paris for him and try and get him the win there.
“He's also got the Olympic road race which he's been quite open about: that's his main objective this year, so it's a shame that he hasn't had the chance to race for more stage wins but in the end we've got a difficult task on our hands to try and win the yellow jersey. So far, he's played a big part in that.
“We've seen him going back for bottles and, yesterday, he tried really hard to get over that first climb with us... he's also been an absolute gentleman this week.
“I thought the attacks at the start wouldn't last so long; it went on for almost two hours but the terrain took its toll. There are a lot of tired bodies out there and eventually the break went and it was pretty straightforward. We started [to chase] but we were only willing to use two guys and we were hoping that Lotto would chuck two in, that GreenEdge would chuck two in... but they weren't interested so that was the end of that.
“There was a good group ahead with a lead of five minutes already so it was going to be difficult.”
Team Sky Sports Director, Sean Yates:
"It took a long time for the break to go and there was not one metre of flat before it went.
"It was damned hard work to keep everything in check as well because there were lots of guys trying to get in it.
"As well as those that could potentially pose a GC threat, we had to monitor the RadioShack guys as well as they wanted to stretch their advantage in the team classification. Franck Schleck tried to get in a few moves for instance which we had to shut down."
Points classification leader Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale:
"This morning we agreed that this was going to be a difficult day because we didn't know what the other teams wanted to do. For the first 80 kilometres almost every rider wanted to be in the breakaway, but after the escape went it was good for me.
“I was surprised that the other sprint teams didn't work to bring back the break but also happy.
“Now I know that the other riders don't want to do battle with me anymore. I'll have another two days in the mountains and, after that, I think I can come in to Paris in the green jersey. I'll try to have a recovery on the day of the time trial so that I have some strength for the sprint on the final day.”
Sylvain Chavanel, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, forced to abandon today through illness:
"Today I'm really sad," Chavanel said. "For a French rider it is really hard to leave the Tour. It's the first time in 12 participations, and now I'm really disappointed.
“Today I tried again to take the start. I had a fever, but I was waiting for the rest day, to recover a bit. The rhythm of the race was immediately too high to me. I couldn't follow and I had to abandon. I'm taking antibiotics since last Thursday. There's no way to continue.
“Now I will try to recover as fast as I can, and I will focus on the Olympics. I wish to the guys here a good final week of the Tour. They deserve it."
Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing, leader of the best young rider’s classification:
“It was really tough at the start. This is one of the days when you look at the profile of the stage and you think, ‘Oh, that's a nice easy cruise into the rest day.' It was anything but that! The roads were rough and up and down all day with over 2,000 metres of climbing and it was just relentless.
“I struggle in the heat. Actually, I was feeling the best when it was raining yesterday. I'm the kind of guy who struggles when it gets hot but I've got a nice rest day to look forward to tomorrow.”
Tour de France Stage 15 result 1 FEDRIGO Pierrick FDJ-BIGMAT 03h 40' 15'' 2 VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN-SHARP + 00' 00'' 3 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR + 00' 12'' 4 SORENSEN Nicki TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK + 00' 12'' 5 DEVENYNS Dries OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 21'' 6 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 01' 08'' 7 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 11' 50'' 8 FARRAR Tyler GARMIN-SHARP All at same time 9 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 10 BOECKMANS Kris VACANSOLEIL-DCM 11 BOZIC Borut ASTANA PRO TEAM 12 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 13 DE KORT Koen TEAM ARGOS-SHIMANO 14 CANTWELL Jonathan TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 15 ENGOULVENT Jimmy SAUR-SOJASUN 16 CURVERS Roy TEAM ARGOS-SHIMANO 17 ROELANDTS Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 18 LADAGNOUS Matthieu FDJ-BIGMAT 19 SCHÄR Michael BMC RACING TEAM 20 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM Last man home on Stage 15 156 VANOTTI Alessandro LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 03h 55' 46'' General Classification after Stage 15 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 68h 33' 21'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 05'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 4 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 03' 19'' 5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 04' 48'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 06' 15'' 7 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 06' 57'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 07' 30'' 9 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 08' 31'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 08' 51'' Points Classification after Stage 15 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 356 pts 2 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 254 pts 3 GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE 203 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 130 pts 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 127 pts Mountains Classifcation after Stage 15 1 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 69 pts 2 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 39 pts 4 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR 37 pts 5 SCARPONI Michele LAMPRE - ISD 33 pts Best Young Rider's Classification after Stage 15 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 68h 40' 18'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 54'' 3 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 40' 35''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.