Any hopes that Mark Cavendish might obtain his 22nd Tour stage win here yesterday were dashed around 100 kilometres from the line when Sky allowed a six-man break to go clear and build up enough of an advantage to dispute the victory.
Two hours later on a fast-moving stage that skirted the foothills of the Pyrenees (of which much more later this week), FDJ-Big Mat veteran Pierrick Fedrigo claimed the win – the fourth for France this year, and third of his career – when he outsprinted his closest pursuer from the move, American Christian Vande Velde.
With sprints well known to be his weakest suit, Vande Velde had barely raised himself out of the saddle to try the impossible before the Frenchman sensed the American's acceleration and upped his own pace, romping over the line a good two lengths clear.
"The best form of defence is attack," Fedrigo said rather smugly afterwards, before adding that he had been confident of beating Vande Velde because "he has less punch in the sprint."
If British fans were disappointed that Sky did not work for Cavendish on one of the three possible sprint stages left in the 2012 Tour, it later emerged that what on paper looked like a short, easy stage was in fact anything but. No fewer than six riders abandoned – among them one of France's best known all-rounders, former Tour leader Sylvain Chavanel – and speeds averaged 43 kilometres an hour, more than three kph above the overall race level: two indications that the stage had been harder than expected.
The roadbook was indirectly to blame for the difference between fans' expectations and what actually materialised. What appeared to be flattish terrain on the map was far more difficult, with the heat and a manically-fast first couple of hours as the break formed, all helping to contribute to the decision not to pull back the break.
"Have you ever ridden a bike?" was Wiggins's almost sneering response to a journalist who asked if there had been any plans to work for Cavendish in this stage. "It wasn't flat, there were 2,000 metres of climbing, and we didn't decide not to work for Mark until we were out on the road.
"GreenEdge didn't want to ride, Lotto the same although they put two guys up there with our two, but that made four riding [on the front of the main pack] against the six ahead and we were never gong to get them back. So we shut it down, Lotto shut it down and that was the end of that." Both Sky and Cavendish have bigger fish to fry than 'just' another stage win: Wiggins' the yellow jersey, Chris Froome's second place overall, and Cavendish's need to reach the Olympic road-race in 12 days' time as fresh as possible. "We're in a good position," Wiggins said, "and it's better to be ahead than behind, but the race isn't over."
The tension showed when he was asked if it would be more interesting if Froome were in another team. Wiggins snapped: "Of course, we're first and second, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work that out." Wiggins had not, he said, looked at the routebook for either of the two vital Pyrenean stages. "I don't want to look too far ahead for fear of not seeing what's in front of me."
Today is a rest day before the final week. Wiggins can take comfort that his position is very different from the last time the Tour had a rest day in Pau in 2010. Curiously, Fedrigo won the stage the previous day as well, from a break of eight containing Lance Armstrong in what was the Texan's last big Tour move, but the Londoner was 24th overall, with dreams of repeating his fourth place from 2009 in tatters.
Wiggins is even further from the second rest day of 2007, also in Pau, where he was about to quit when his Cofidis team-mate Christian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
The Londoner stuffed his Cofidis team kit in a wastebasket at the airport in disgust before heading back to Britain. This time, with Wiggins now Britain's best-ever chance to win the Tour, this second rest day is yet another landmark in his career – even if there was no Cavendish win to precede it.
Results & standings
(Samatan - Pau, France) Stage 15 (158.5km): 1 P Fedrigo (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat 3hrs 40mins 15secs, 2 C Vande Velde (US) Garmin - Sharp at same time, 3 T Voeckler (Fr) Team Europcar at 0.12secs, 4 N Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at same time, 5 D Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 0.21, 6 S Dumoulin (Fr) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne at 01min 08secs, 7 A Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team at 11.50, 8 T Farrar (US) Garmin - Sharp at same time, 9 P Sagan (Slovak) Liquigas-Cannondale at same time, 10 K Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team at same time, 11 B Bozic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at same time, 12 S Hinault (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at same time, 13 K De Kort (Neth) Argos-Shimano at same time, 14 J Cantwell (Aus) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at same time, 15 J Engoulvent (Fr) Saur - Sojasun at same time, 16 R Curvers (Neth) Argos-Shimano at same time, 17 J Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at same time, 18 M Ladagnous (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat at same time, 19 M Schar (Swit) BMC Racing Team at same time, 20 J Brajkovic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at same time.
Selected Others: 22 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling 3hrs 52mins 46secs, 23 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 82 M Cavendish (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 102 S Cummings (GB) BMC Racing Team at same time, 149 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp at 12mins 21secs
General classification: 1 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling 68hrs 33mins 21secs, 2 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at 02mins 05secs, 3 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 02.23, 4 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 03.19, 5 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at 04.48, 6 H Zubeldia Agirre (Sp) RadioShack-Nissan at 06.15, 7 T Van Garderen (US) BMC Racing Team at 06.57, 8 J Brajkovic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at 07.30, 9 P Rolland (Fr) Team Europcar at 08.31, 10 T Pinot (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat at 08.51, 11 A Kloden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan at 09.29, 12 F Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 09.45, 13 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at 10.49, 14 J Coppel (Fr) Saur - Sojasun at 11.27, 15 C Horner (US) RadioShack-Nissan at 12.41, 16 D Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at 17.21, 17 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 17.41, 18 E M De Esteban (Sp) Euskaltel - Euskadi at 18.04, 19 R A F Da Costa (Portugal) Movistar Team at 19.02, 20 C A Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at 20.12.
Selected Others: 85 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp at 1hr 43mins 10secs, 90 S Cummings (GB) BMC Racing Team 1.46.57, 144 M Cavendish (GB) Sky Procycling 2.24.43.Reuse content