Stage 16 was planned as a commemoration of the Tour de France's first excursion into the Pyrenees 100 years ago, crossing the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque passes just as the 1910 race had. Consequently, it was fitting that a centenary after Frenchman Octave Lapize won the stage over those passes, another Frenchman, Pierrick Fédrigo, led the race into Pau after a memorable stage.
Active right from the start, Fédrigo counterattacked from the yellow jersey group at the foot of the Tourmalet to get across to a breakaway group containing seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong, France's outstanding stage race performer of recent years Christophe Moreau and 2004 Giro d'Italia champion Damiano Cunego. But with his family and friends watching in Pau, it was Bbox's Fédrigo who zipped through to take the sprint and his third Tour stage win.
"Yesterday I was almost cracking up because I thought I might finish this Tour without having got into a group that disputed the stage win," Fédrigo said. "Although I got away in a break with [Juan Antonio] Flecha and [Sylvain] Chavanel on stage 11, the key thing for me was to get into a group that decided the stage between them. It wouldn't have mattered so much if I'd finished second or third, I just wanted to be in there fighting for the stage win."
The Bbox puncheur explained that his first job once he was in the break was to try to defend teammate Anthony Charteau's lead in the mountains classification. "Once we'd gone over the Aubisque I knew that there were about 60km left and only then did I start to think about the stage win." He also admitted he'd thought back to his stage win last year in Tarbes, when he beat Franco Pellizotti in a two-up sprint at the end of a day that also took the race over the Tourmalet.
"When the sprint was launched I had deliberately taken up a position behind the other riders, then I had a bit of coming together with Damiano Cunego," Fédrigo said. "I was almost caught in against the barriers but I got the gap that I wanted and it meant that no one could come up from behind me. It was a great stage for me to win today because it was so difficult right from the Peyresourde, and it also included the Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and the Aubisque. Plus, my family were here to see it."
Asked if he'd been most concerned about Armstrong, Fédrigo responded: "No, I wasn't afraid of Armstrong in the sprint. The rider I was most concerned about was Sandy [Casar], because he won the other day and he's another rider who's got the ability to get into small groups and win on tough days like this."
Like stage 15 winner, his Bbox teammate Thomas Voeckler, Fédrigo expressed his hope that the success that Jean-René Bernaudeau's team has had during the race will attract a new backer for next season. But he admitted other teams are waiting in the wings. "I've had some offers from elsewhere but I'm not going to close the door on Jean-René. I am in discussions with him now, or at least I will be when the Tour is over."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).