It took 90 minutes for the escape group to form and, perhaps because of the early exertions, the impetus was gone from the peloton once six men found themselves at the front of the 15th stage. From the halfway mark, it was obvious that the winner in Pau would be one of the six escapees. Four of the selection had previously enjoyed success at the Tour, with two of the Frenchman in the move – Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo – having claimed three stages each in the past. Once the escape was well clear the six opportunists: Voeckler, Fedrigo, along with Samuel Dumoulin, Christian Vande Velde, Dries Devenyns and Nicki Sorensen worked well together all the way to the final 10.5km. That’s when there was a brief bout of attacking action that ultimately put Fedrigo in the lead along with Vande Velde. Unlike the finish in Le Cap d’Agde, however, the Garmin-Sharp escape representative didn’t have the muscle to overcome his lead-out man. Fedrigo started the final sprint and stayed in front all the way to the line to take his second victory in Pau and his fourth stage success in the Tour.
The progress report
The 158.5km 15th stage from Samatan to Pau began at 1.50pm with 162 riders in the race. There were three small hills on an essentially flat course, they were: the cote de Lahite-Toupière (cat-4 at 107km), the cote de Simacourbe (cat-3 at 123.5km) and the cote de Monassut-Audiracq (cat-3 at 129km). The intermediate sprint was at the 101.5km mark (in Maubourguet).
Perpetual attacks for opening 55km
As soon as the stage began, the attacks started and they kept on going for the first hour. At 35, five men established the biggest gain; this quintet included: Costa (MOV), Millar (GRS), Arashiro (EUC), Grivko (AST) and Grabsch (OPQ). At the 30km mark, Chavanel abandoned the Tour citing illness, and Vincent Jerome (EUC) quit at the 52km mark. The average speed for the opening hour was 46.1km/h. Other aggressors early in the 15th stage were Vinokourov, Devenyns, Martin… but not until after 88 minutes of racing did the peloton ease off the pace of the chase. By then there was a group of five ahead. Voeckler (EUC), Vande Velde (GRS), Fedrigo (EUC), Devenyns (OPQ) and Dumoulin (COF) launched their bid at the 62km and, at 65km, they were 1’30” ahead of the bunch. Nicki Sorensen (STB) was the last rider to attack the bunch and he reached the front at 70km, he caught the leaders at 82km. Before the Dane joined the lead group, the five at the front posted an advantage of the day: 6’25” at 79km – and that seemed like it would be the maximum gain as the pace of the bunch picked up but it would blow out again later.
The chase begins… but without much impetus
The average speed of the second hour was 43.6km/h. After the feedzone (90km), Lotto-Belisol put two men at the front of the bunch. Sorensen led the escape over the line at the intermediate sprint. Lancaster (OGE), Bernaudeau (EUC) and van Hummel (VCD) quit during the third hour of stage 15. With 55km to go, the Lotto riders retreated to the peloton and the advantage of the escapees grew to 7’45” when the bunch reached the 45km to go mark. The Sky team had Knees and Eisel at the front, followed by Wiggins and they seemed content to give the escapees room to move; the advantage grew quickly for a while, up to 8’35” with the leaders inside the final 38km; 10’30” at 31km to go; 11’40” at 11km to go…
Fedrigo claims a fourth Tour stage win
The first attack from the lead group came from Sorensen with 10.5km to go but he was quickly chased down by the five other escapees. The day tried another surge with 8.5km to go but that only prompted Fedrigo into action and into the lead of the stage. He was successfully chased down by Vande Velde and this pair would cooperate for the final stanza of the stage, even swapping turns in the second-last kilometre when they had an advantage of 15”. Fedrigo asked for a turn, Vande Velde obliged… then, a little after the ‘flamme rouge’ Fedrigo went to the front. He launched his sprint with the American right on his wheel but was never challenged and he claimed his fourth stage win at the Tour de France, his second in Pau (the first being in 2010). Fedrigo’s other stage wins at the Tour were in Gap (2006) and Tarbes (2009).
The peloton continued to lose time all the way to the finish and, Greipel eventually led the bunch home 11’50” behind Fedrigo.
Wiggins finished near the front of the bunch in 22nd place and he will wear the yellow jersey in stage 16 on Wednesday, after the second rest day.