Pierrick Fédrigo outrode and outwitted five breakaway companions to win his fourth career Tour stage.
Words by Lionel Birnie in Pau
Monday 16 July 2012
Entering the final 10 kilometres of the stage with a lead of more than 11 minutes over the peloton, the leading group of six were presented with the sort of opportunity that makes the heartbeat quicken. In such circumstances, it is the rider who understands his own strengths and weaknesses the best and is able to formulate a plan, then execute it with total commitment, who prevails.
And that was the case on the run-in to Pau, as Pierrick Fédrigo applied himself superbly to the situation he found himself in.
It is perhaps too tempting to say that the 33-year-old Frenchman – nicknamed le nez de Marmande – has a nose for these scenarios but it is also true.
The six riders each had the same problem in front of them – how to outwit the other five – and they each had different weapons at their disposal.
There was Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, undoubtedly the fastest sprinter if it came to that. Dries Devenyns, the Belgian Omega Pharma rider, was the diesel of the group, hoping to pull off a move from two or three kilometres out, as he tried, and failed, to do in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine last week when Thomas Voeckler won.
There was Voeckler himself, liberated to an extent by the fact he already had a stage win under his belt. His plan would be to try to jump them just as the pace slowed.
Nicki Sorensen of Saxo Bank probably fancied his chances in a two or three-man sprint but would have wanted to get rid of Dumoulin.
And finally there was Christian Vande Velde, the Garmin-Sharp rider, who was at a disadvantage because of his lack of a fast finish. He had to ride as smartly as possible and either get away alone, or with one other rider and hope for the best, which is more or less what he did.
Whether Fédrigo weighed all this up before making his move or not, his strategy was perfect. He needed to get out of that six-man group sooner rather than later, before it became a free-for-all.
So when he made his move, ghosting away from the others with just under six kilometres to go, he knew he would tease one or two of the other riders to chase, but hoped it would be no more than that. Vande Velde was the man to respond and while the others all looked to superior sprinter Dumoulin, the gap opened.
The American had no option but to co-operate, which he did willingly, even though he knew that the chance of jumping Fédrigo in the final 300 metres would be very, very slim. In fact, Vande Velde was unable to pull out of Fédrigo’s slipstream.
It was the fourth Tour stage victory of Fédrigo’s career, and his second in Pau, coming after last season was blighted by illness. He contracted Lyme disease from a tick, while out hunting, he thinks, and missed last year’s Tour.
Returning to the Tour at the age of 33, still as canny, he pulled off the second stage win for FDJ and a fourth for France.
Behind the six-man leading group, the peloton decided to take the afternoon as easily as they could.
Stage 15 from Samatan to Pau probably looked to most like a dead cert for a sprint finish. Had it been in the first week of the Tour, it would probably have settled into that pattern, but with weary legs and a couple of hard days in the Pyrenees to come, the bunch was in no mood for a hard chase.
However, the first hour and 20 minutes were extremely aggressive, with several groups trying to get clear. The peloton, unhappy with the composition of the first move, which included Rui Costa – only 19 minutes down overall – shut it down. It wasn’t until Voeckler, Devenyns, Fédrigo, Dumoulin and Vande Velde attacked at the 62-kilometre mark that the bunch let go of the reins.
Sorensen, the Saxo Bank rider, counter-attacked and for a while was stranded in no man’s land. At this point his team played a tactical blinder. They went to the front of the bunch and started to chase not their own man but the leading break. The situation was simple – unless the front five slowed a bit to allow Sorensen to join them, Saxo Bank would shut it all down.
It worked and Sorensen made six at the 82-kilometre mark.
At this point the gap was around six minutes and it came in a bit after the feed zone, then went back up when the bunch slowed down, reportedly because of a patch of oil on one of the descents.
The anticipated chase from Lotto-Belisol to set up Andre Greipel for a fourth stage win did not materialise. Nor were Sky eager to bring it back for Mark Cavendish. And Orica-GreenEdge? Well, they were invisible again.
As Wiggins explained afterwards, the profile and map of the stage do not often tell the whole story. “There was 2,000m of climbing in 150k out there today,” he said. “It wasn’t flat. It was a tough day.”
Wiggins revealed that Sky’s sports director asked Orica-GreenEdge to help Sky close the gap. “They didn’t want to ride,” said Wiggins. “Lotto didn’t want to ride, then they put two up front with our two. We had four guys chasing and we decided that we were not going to bring it back with just four chasing six out in front, so that was the end of that.”
The lead then flew up to more than ten minutes, which was the equivalent of throwing a gold coin in front of the six leading riders and asking them to scrabble over it.
That was before Fédrigo made his definitive move, scooping up the gold coin with a graceful manoeuvre and cashing it in on the finish line.