Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-Bigmat) won the fifteenth stage of the 2012 Tour de France, a 158.5km run from Samatan to Pau, from a break of six riders.
The six pulled clear from the front of the peloton mid-stage and soon had a lead in excess of ten minutes. With no teams prepared to fully commit to a chase, it was obvious from quite a long way out that the stage winner was going to come from the six, Pierrick Fedrigo (FRA) FDJ, Christian Vande Velde (USA) GRS, Nicki Sorensen (DEN) STB, Thomas Voeckler (FRA) EUC, Dries Devenyns (BEL) OPQ and Samuel Dumoulin (COF).
It wasn’t until the 10km to go point that the six leaders began to show the classic signs of restlessness which betray the fact that their thoughts have turned from staying clear to working out how they might win. The presence of sprinter Sammy Dumoulin was a significant influence on the thought processes of his fellow escapees and the dynamics of that last ten kilometres.
After a few abortive attacks, with Voeckler in particular looking aggressive, Fedrigo made a big move and was followed after a couple of seconds by Vande Velde, who soon joined the FDJ man and the pair began to work together, a temporary alliance to reduce the odds of winning to 50:50.
Behind them, Voeckler was the keenest to chase, but clearly reluctant to take anyone with him and by the one kilometre to go banner his chance had gone along with the rest.
Vande Velde did everything right as he came into the sun-lit, flower-lined finish straight, manoeuvring Fedrigo onto the front. However, the Frenchman was very attentive, rolling close along the right-hand barriers to reduce his rivals options and when the American opened up his sprint, Fedrigo was able to respond very quickly and easily held Vande Velde off to claim his fourth Tour stage win.
Andre Greipel led home the main field after an excellent lead-out by his Lotto Belisol team-mates. However, he will be wondering how a break could escape in the second half of the stage and not be brought back in time for him to have a stab at the stage win, instead of battling for seventh.
Overall, Bradley Wiggins and his Sky team will count it as another day safely negotiated. Two days in the Pyrenees await after tomorrow’s rest day. Then comes the second long individual time trial. These three stages will settle the destiny of this year’s Tour, with the shortish (143km) 17th stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes, with a mountain-top finish, perhaps the most critical of all.
Team Sky's Sports Director Sean Yates said of the way the day had panned out: "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."
The riders will now have a well-earned rest day but Bradley Wiggins knows there's still plenty of working to be done, saying: "There are gaps in the GC of course, and yes we are in a great position, but even the time-trial on Saturday could see gaps. The last time-trial of the Tour is not the same as the one in the first week. You're tired and it's not easy to put in the same amount of effort as in the first week."
Wiggins will wait until the end of his day off to look ahead to Wednesday's stage.
"I always think if you start looking too far ahead you forget what's in front of you," he said. "And it doesn't seem so vast, from the start back in Liege. I'll have a good look tomorrow night at the stage on Wednesday and there's no real point looking at Thursday until Wednesday's done."
Stage 15, Jul 16 Samatan - Pau 158.5 km
1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 3:40:15
2 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Sharp
3 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:12
4 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
5 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:21
6 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:01:08
7 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 0:11:50
8 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp
9 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
10 Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 68:33:21
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:06:15
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:06:57
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:07:30
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:31
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:08:51
Stage 15, Jul 16 Samatan - Pau 158.5 km