French rider Fedrigo surges to stage win
Pierrick Fedrigo of France won the 15th stage of the Tour de France by leading a two-man final breakaway, while Bradley Wiggins kept the overall lead as he stayed with his rivals in the main pack far behind.
The 158.5km route from Samatan to Pau had a mostly flat layout, but teams with strong sprinters didn't try to chase down the breakaway riders as fatigue kicked in following a fast start.
Fedrigo, of the FDJ-BigMat team, collected his fourth Tour stage victory by leaving a group of six riders with about 6.5 kilometres left, with only Garmin-Sharp member Christian Vande Velde of the United States able to stay close.
Vande Velde made a brief burst to try to outsprint Fedrigo in the last 200 meters, but his rival accelerated to the line to become the fourth French rider to win a stage this Tour.
''It's incredible ... the stars need to be aligned,'' said Fedrigo, whose last Tour stage win was also in Pau two years ago. ''There are days when things go like that.''
Fedrigo said the victory was especially satisfying because he was sidelined for six months last year after suffering from tick-borne Lyme disease.
Vande Velde said he had little hope of winning the sprint because of his inexperience in such finishes.
''I knew my chances were not good at all with Fedrigo, he is really quick guy and has got a much better sprint,'' said Vande Velde, who wore the Giro d'Italia leader's pink jersey for a day in 2008, and was part of the Garmin-Cervelo squad that won the Tour team trial last year.
''I've never had a sprint (victory) - ever,'' said Vande Velde, who is 36. ''I've always been a slow-twitch guy. But I'm still happy with my ride. I wish there was a hill to finish it up on, but that's the way it goes.''
Wiggins finished 11 minutes, 50 seconds behind Fedrigo in the main pack. The 32-year-old Team Sky leader is looking to become Britain's first winner of cycling's showcase race.
Overall, Wiggins leads second-place teammate Christopher Froome by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 behind, while defending champion Cadel Evans remains fourth, 3:19 back.
Wiggins said he and other riders were looking forward to Tuesday's rest day.
''A lot of people are tired now - mentally more than physically,'' he told French TV. ''It was hard today nonetheless, it was quite hot. And the road was hilly.''
The pack got out to a fast start, clocking 46.1 kph (28.6 mph) for the first hour of riding. RadioShack Nissan Trek rider Maxime Monfort attributed it to a large percentage of the pack grappling to get into a breakaway.
The six-man breakaway bunch including Fedrigo and Vande Velde that finally got away began taking shape around the 62 kilometre-mark, after several other previous escapes failed.
Tour organizers said another six riders dropped out of the race, including France's Sylvain Chavanel due to illness. Brett Lancaster of Australia withdrew because of pain in his lower back from crashes in Saturday's 13th stage, his Orica-GreenEdge team said.
A total of 42 riders have now quit the race, trimming the pack to 156 competitors.
Meanwhile, Tour organizers completed their full tally from a tack-throwing incident on the course route on Sunday. Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux said the 30 top-placed riders had total of 61 flat tires because of the small nails, and hundreds of cars, bikes and motorcycles in the race convoy were affected. He said a police investigation was under way to try to find out who threw the tacks over a section of the course.
The rest day comes before two punishing days in the Pyrenees that, along with a final time trial in the next-to-last stage, are likely to determine the winner of the three-week race, which ends on July 22 in Paris.