On Sunday evening, the party will be on in the Bbox Bouygues Telecom team hotel in Limoges. Not only is tomorrow a rest day, but the French squad just nailed its second victory in this Tour de France with Pierrick Fedrigo outsprinting Italian Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) in the finish of stage nine in Tarbes.
Fedrigo, a native of the Lot-and-Garonne department close to where the stage ended, scored the third French victory of the race in a very impressive fashion. Being a member of the day's breakaway that suffered its way over the day's two spectacular climbs - the Col d'Aspin and the Tourmalet - he not only made it over the mountains that made many riders drop back, but he also took the better of Pellizotti in a strong finale.
Approaching the finish line, the Liquigas rider was on Fedrigo's wheel and overtook him once he charged with 200 meters to go. But the fast finisher Fedrigo was able to come back on the climber's wheel and still out-sprint him for a deserved victory.
Both riders had targeted this particular stage, and second-placed Pellizotti was a fair loser. "I knew there was one last bend with 200 metres to go, so I anticipated it. I hoped that the finish line was going to be a bit closer, but Fedrigo rode well and clearly won," the Italian praised his rival.
Fedrigo, 31 years of age, took his second career Tour stage victory. He first won in the race in 2006, when he out-sprinted Salvatore Commesso in stage 14 to Gap, much in a similar fashion than today. Asked which win felt better, the former French champion said, "both are great. It's the Tour de France, it's the most beautiful race in the world. In the finale, I had the same feelings as in 2006. Moreover, the race unfolded in the same way: a breakaway of many riders at first, then a finish with only two riders."
After teammate Thomas Voeckler took the first victory for the outfit in stage five, Fedrigo had marked this day on his personal calendar. "There are stages that suit me, and others don't. Therefore, it doesn't make any sense to spend energy to become 25th at seven seconds - it's better to finish in the gruppetto at 15 or 20 minutes to keep some reserves, as the Tour is a long race. Today, I was in front, and the forces that I saved on previous stages allowed me to win," he explained about his overall tactics.
It's the third French win in this Tour so far, with Agritubel's Brice Feillu taking stage seven in Andorra - a great outcome for the nation which had been longing for more success in its home Grand Tour in recent years. "Maybe French riders have more self-confidence now," said Fedrigo when asked how come the French riders' results improved.
"Some teams are here to win the Tour, and others to win stages. The French are off the front as every year, they get into breakaways and long escapes and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. You have to believe in it."
Fedrigo did, and so did his escape mate Pellizotti, with whom he resisted the chase group and the peloton over the last 80 kilometres of the stage. The bunch got close, with teams Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank working for their sprinters, but with four kilometres to go, the gap stabilized around 40 seconds - enough to stay away.
"We spoke in the last kilometres, and encouraged each other to give it everything. We believed in our chances, and remained calm. That was the key to our success," said Fedrigo, whose list of victories is growing: Two stage victories in the Tour, one in the 2009 Dauphiné Libéré, one in the Volta a Catalunya and the 2008 GP de Plouay, to name but a few.
Asked what the next step in his career would be, he cautiously replied, "I don't know, maybe the Worlds. I discussed it with [French team selector] Laurent Jalabert, and the objective of the rest of my season will be Mendrisio.
"In the past, once it was August or September, my focus sort of slipped. But now I am older, and I have more responsibilities, which is why this year, I wanted to to set myself another goal. I hope that this will take my career to another level."