PAU, France (AFP) — French rider Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) gave the hosts their fourth win of the Tour de France when he beat American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) to win the 158.5km 15th stage between Samatan and Pau on Monday.
Race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and the main peloton came over the finish line nearly 12 minutes behind a six-man breakaway that had fought hard to form in a frantic opening to the race.
Wiggins, who took the race lead at the end of stage 7, came under no threat during the undulating stage from the Gers department to the foot of the Pyrénées, where the peloton will spend the race’s second rest day Tuesday.
The Team Sky leader still has a 2:05 lead over teammate Chris Froome, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) in third at 2:23 and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) fourth at 3:19.
On what was one of the last chances for the sprinters to shine on a flat finish, it became clear that the yellow jersey takes precedence for Wiggins’ Sky team. After a blistering opening 90 minutes, Sky and backed off and allowed the six-man breakaway to go up the road, taking a maximum advantage of more than 12 minutes. Asked why Sky had not helped the other sprinters’ teams to form an effective chase, world champion Mark Cavendish snapped: “It wasn’t flat. There were 2000 meters of climbing in 150km!
“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.
Fedrigo attacked with 6.5km remaining and when Vande Velde caught on, the pair rode away from Voeckler, Dumoulin, Nicki Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Vande Velde followed the Frenchman into the finish straight, but couldn’t come around in the two-up sprint. It was Fedrigo’s fourth career victory in the Tour, but first since 2010 and his return to cycling after a six-month spell on the sidelines. It is also the second for his FDJ team after Thibaut Pinot won stage 8 in Porrentruy, Switzerland.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fedrigo, whose last win on the race was in Pau in 2010. “The last time I won on the Tour was here. When you’re racing the Tour, you need luck. And some days you just get the feeling it can be your day.
“The closer we got to the finish line, the more I believed in my chances.”
After that 2010 victory, the Frenchman — who is a keen hunter — came down with Lyme’s disease, keeping him off the Tour and off the bike for six months.
“I caught Lyme’s disease, a virus which is caused by a tick. You can catch it in the fields or in the woods. I came back to cycling determined to find my level again.”
The race resumes Wednesday when the mountainous 197km 16th stage takes the peloton over two hors categorie and two Cat. 1 climbs to a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon.