Stage 15: Samatan to Pau, 158.5km
Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) handed the French their fourth win of the Tour – and his team’s second – when he beat Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) in a two-man sprint after the pair had distanced their four breakaway companions 6km from the finish. This was the second time in three years that Fedrigo’s won into Pau, his fourth Tour victory, but his first since 2010 and his return to competition after suffering from Lyme’s disease for most of last season.
The other four, having lost out in the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse, which started 10km from the finish, finished seconds behind, with stage 10 winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) rounding out the podium.
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and the main peloton, lead home by birthday boy Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), rolled home nearly 12 minutes behind the breakaway. Indeed, it had taken over 60km for the successful break to slip away, after several had tried and failed in a fast and furious start to the race. With Fedrigo, Vande Velde and Voeckler were Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and another Kitty favourite, Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who were eventually joined by Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Nicki Sorensen after a long solo chase.
The peloton, possibly intent on keeping their powder dry for the next two monster stages after tomorrow’s rest day, were only too happy to cruise in the last half of the stage after the frantic early pace.
VeloVoices rider of the day
VeloVoices’ rider of the day, by a nose [I see what you did there – Ed], is stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat), who carefully weighed up his options and eliminated his sprint opposition, the diminutive Dumoulin, on the run in to the finish line. Indeed, one might say that the last two stages, both won from breakaways, have been won by classic stage-hunters.
Today was another short punchy stage televised from the start. In theory it was a stage for the sprint teams but there were still 14 empty-handed teams so today was always going to be a battle royal to get into the breakaway. You might wonder why more didn’t try but the speed was pretty much flat out for the first 60km. With a successful break finally forming, Nicki Sorensen tried to bridge but only succeeded dangling in no man’s land until his team came to the rescue, no doubt on the orders of Saxo Bank team manager and master tactician Bjarne Riis. After 75km, the front five had built a lead of over six minutes but Sorenson was still 30 seconds adrift when his team mates hit the front of the peloton and began to drag back the leading group. Hobson’s choice, so the five-man group slowed and allowed the Dane to catch up with them. Once he’d done so, his team mates disappeared from the front of the peloton and the gap began to grow again.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was allowed to roll over the line at the intermediate sprint point, a signal of the other riders’ capitulation in the face of his dominance in the points competition: game over, barring any mishaps.
Tejay Van Garderen is still comfortably leading the young riders’ competition and there’s speculation that he may be BMC’s sacrificial lamb in the Pyrenees, used to tempt Sky’s black-and-white sheep dogs into a rash move in an effort to get teammate and defending champion Cadel Evans back onto the podium.
Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) is still wearing the mountains jersey – plus matching shorts, helmet, socks and gloves – but today Thomas Voeckler made a point of taking all five points on offer to move up in the competition. Has he now set his cap at the jersey? If so, he’ll need to get into either or both of the next days’ inevitable breakaways. Even for him, this might be one break too far.
Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and his team are looking unassailable. The next two stages represent the last chance saloon for anyone wanting to disturb their one-two lock on the podium. But will the others want to gamble their places and precious UCI points? I see more potential downside than upside for the challengers on terrain that’s difficult, yes, but there’s virtually no painful and unsettling changes of gradient to disturb Wiggo’s rhythm. In week one, Bradley said it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she’s not even in the room. I would venture to suggest that she’s now in the room and warming up at the mike.
In reality, maybe there’s only Samu Sanchez’s (Euskaltel-Euskadi) successor as the winner of the mountains classification to be decided in the coming days. Not of course forgetting those 14 teams still intent on chasing a precious stage win, which will ensure places in the day’s breakaway will be hotly contested.
VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.