Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ-BigMat) returned to one of his happiest hunting grounds and came away with stage 15 of the Tour de France slung over his shoulder after he outsprinted Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) in Pau on Monday.
It was the canny Fédrigo's second time winning a stage in Pau, following his triumph over Sandy Casar in the shadow of the Pyrenees two years ago. On that occasion, he had traversed the Tourmalet en route to victory, but while the route was somewhat flatter this time around, Fédrigo's qualities as a finisseur were again key to his success.
After spending the stage off the front as part of the six-man break of the day, Fédrigo bided his time in the finale before firing off a clinical attack with six kilometres to go. Only Vande Velde could follow and though the American contributed richly to help the duo fend of the remnants of the group, the sprint on Rue Michelet was a formality for a marksman of Fédrigo's instincts.
"I knew the finish well and I knew that I would be able to do the sprint by leading it out, so I went in the same place as the last time," Fédrigo said afterwards. "It's incredible to win here again after two years."
Fédrigo's victory was the fourth of a distinguished Tour career, a haul that is testimony to his remarkable capacity to poke out opportunities regardless of the terrain. 34 years old in November, Fédrigo admitted that it was becoming more and more difficult to win at La Grande Boucle.
"It's hard now, especially as I'm getting older," he said. "I'm touching 34 years of age and you've now got young guys like Thibaut Pinot winning stages now and he's only 22. But I'm still able to have my say.
"You need the stars to be aligned for you on a day like this, and then something good can happen."
Fate had appeared to be conspiring against Fédrigo ever since he made the switch from Bouygues Telecom to FDJ. Marc Madiot's marquee signing in the winter of 2010, Fédrigo struggled to make an impact early on, citing illness, and only a battery of tests last July revealed that he had been suffering from Lyme disease.
A keen hunter in his spare time, Fédrigo reckons that he picked up the disease while stalking prey in the woods near in his home in Marmande, two hours north of Pau.
"It's an infection from ticks that you can get from being in long grass and the woods," Fédrigo said. "It's not a very well known disease and it's hard to diagnose but I really affected me. It took a long time to get back."
After writing off last season, Fédrigo showed signs of recovery as 2012 began, taking a fine stage victory at the Critérium International. Ever the marksman, however, Fédrigo was eyeing significantly bigger game as the Tour rolled around, but he spent a frustrating two weeks waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
When the chance finally did arise on the road to Pau, Fédrigo knew that he needed to approach his target. "There were strong riders in the group, like Vande Velde, [Nicki] Sörensen, Thomas [Voeckler] and Samuel Dumoulin, so it wasn't an easy situation to manage," he said.
When Fédrigo finally did take aim, however, he made his effort count. "I've always had the tendency to wait until the last minute because I often don't have a lot of confidence or I'm not sure of my sensations," he said. "Today, I was really attacked without calculating because I just felt it was the right moment."