He's shown us what he can do in his nation's biggest race and this afternoon in Pau, Pierrick Fedrigo added a third Tour de France stage win to his impressive palmares in equally impressive fashion. The French rider beat illustrious names such as Lance Armstrong, Christophe Moreau and Chris Horner in a sprint along the Place de Verdun after a tough 200km in the Pyrenees.
There's something about three for Fedrigo, the mercurial Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider winning his first Tour stage in a three-lettered city, Gap, in 2006, adding another last year in Tarbes before today's latest addition, his third stage victory in la grande boucle.
"It was a very, very beautiful day, one of the best," said Fedrigo. "I can't say much more. When the group of Contador almost came back to us I attacked because I knew it was my day."
It came at the end of another tough day in the Pyrenees; with four categorised cols on the menu it promised fireworks amongst the favourites but instead turned into an impasse after the drama of the closing 25km of yesterday's stage.
No headlines were created by means of any special events, unlike the scenes of the finish some 24 hours earlier, as the stage was set for an expected showdown on Thursday to the Col du Tourmalet.
And while most eyes were on Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador up each of the day's climbs, French hearts were fluttering because two Frenchman spent half of the 199.5km at the front of the field and at the conclusion of proceedings were the first two riders across the line in Pau.
But it could so easily have been a Spanish success, so close to Spain, with Quick Step's Carlos Barredo animating the final 44km of the day in a style that is likely to have won him new fans; having tried his luck on the day's final climb without success, last year's Clásica San Sebastián champion proved his reputation as an aggressive rider not after the finish - as he did in a scuffle following stage six - but an inspired move that very nearly netted him the win.
But like his effort in Saint-Étienne at the end of stage 18 of the 2008 Tour, the 29-year-old from Oviedo fell agonisingly short, caught under the flamme rouge and limping home, his heart broken but his honour untarnished, having held off an eight-man chasing group for more than an hour.
And while the yellow jersey of another Spaniard, Contador, is considered tarnished by some he displayed the signs that re-taking the race lead will be tough for Schleck as he'll undoubtedly use the welcome rest day to mull over his strategy with Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis.
One change that did take place was the transferal of the green jersey, as Thor Hushovd again took charge of the intriguing battle for the points classification. Cervélo TestTeam's big Norwegian did enough to dress himself in green for stage 17, with a day to contemplate how he'll maintain his slender four-point lead in the standings.
"It was an important day. I knew it was a good chance to try to get some more points," said Hushovd after taking the bunch kick for 10th. "The team did a great job helping me get over the climbs. With the break up the road, we knew there were some points waiting at the finish line. It's important to take many whenever you have the opportunity," he said.
"Petacchi is the most dangerous rival. I am feeling better as this Tour goes along and I think I have a good chance to win another stage - I would love to win on the Champs-Elysées. The green jersey always comes down to who is the strongest rider over three weeks."
A unique day
The unique nature of today's parcours called for a departure from the usual formula we've seen over so many stages of this year's Tour -ie- an early break is let go, it gains a wide margin that is eaten down by the peloton but not sufficiently so to avoid the escapees' involvement in the finale.
This was courtesy of the Col de Peyresourde, Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque on the race route, which presented over 60km of climbing on a pair of first category and two hors categorie ascents. On paper it should have represented a day of carnage for the overall contenders but as the stage progressed this looked less likely, the events of yesterday left to simmer for another 48 hours until the final Pyrenean journey on Thursday.
Early groovers rush to make the move
After five kilometres of the stage a group of 11 riders had emerged, boasting some heavy firepower with the likes of Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) and Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) - who initiated the aggression - plus Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas-Doimo), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Caisse d'Epargne) and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) getting amongst the early action.
They quickly gathered a lead of 20 seconds over the peloton as latecomers made their way to the early move. A couple of kilometres down the road the group had ballooned to include the aforementioned names plus: Christopher Horner (RadioShack), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo), Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Columbia), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing), Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Eros Capecchi (Footon-Servetto) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions).
Such was the nature of the stage that by day's end, only Armstrong, Barredo and Horner would be amongst the breakaway group that fought it out for the stage win in Pau, however. The contents of the break fluctuated and flowed like the rivers that ran along the valleys below today's iconic climbs.
This was seen on the latter slopes of the opening climb, the Col de Peyresourde, as Moinard, Siutsou and Martinez lost contact, with Szmyd leading the break over the top while Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and mountains classification leader Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) joining the leaders.
With the first of the quartet of cols done and 179km remaining, the break had accumulated a lead in excess of a minute as it headed back down the mountain. At the end of the descent, the break boasted extra members in the form of Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), who joined the leaders with 164.5km remaining while Szmyd was absorbed by the peloton.
Up the Aspin there were problems for Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) courtesy of the pace set by Jurgen Van Den Broeck's Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates. The break was only 24 seconds ahead nearing the crest of the Aspin as Sastre tapped out a useful pace; Sandy Casar decided to hit out alone with the peloton about to absorb what was left of the escape, however, which instigated another ebb for the front runners.
While some of the hitherto leaders decided it was worth finding their place back in the peloton, the likes of Casar, Charteau and Armstrong knew their lot was off the front, so they set off in pursuit of the lone Frenchman, with Lampre-Farnese Vini's Damiano Cunego and Charteau's Bbox Bouygues Telecom teammate Pierrick Fedrigo fleeing the main bunch to avoid missing out on a second-chance opportunity to be a part of an escape.
As Casar approached the Col du Tourmalet alone, it was only a matter of time before the aspiring escapees found their way to the Frenchman and provided him with company up to the highest point of this year's Tour. Intent on not missing the party, Horner returned to the front of the field, as did Barredo, who was joined by countryman Ruben Plaza (Caisse d'Epargne) at the head of the race with 134km remaining in the stage.
It was then time for Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne) and Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step) to make their way across to the leaders. A late addition to the fearless fighters at the front was Ignatas Konovalovas (Cervélo TestTeam), who was dropped early on the climb but managed to make his way back to the front as it neared the zenith.
And after riding on shifting sands for over 60km, the break of RadioShack pair Armstrong and Horner, Casar, QuickStep duo Barredo and Van De Walle, Fedrigo, Caisse d'Epargne crew Moreau and Plaza plus Cunego and Konovalovas proved to be the definitive escape of the day, the 10-rider group that would fight amongst itself for the stage win in Pau.
This year's Souvenir Jacques Goddet went to Moreau at the top of the Tourmalet, the Frenchman taking the mountains classification points ahead of countryman Fedrigo and Cunego; another sign of the break's status as 'the move that would stick' was its lead over the Astana-led peloton, which had been extended during the climb by more than three minutes.
Soul-searching on the Soulor
As the break started the Col du Soulor its advantage had increased to 6:15 with a head count of 10, although Cervélo's representative in the escape was struggling and would later be dropped for good by the men up front.
As the break approached the upper slopes of the Soulor it was time for Armstrong to gas it at the front, splintering the group and indicating that the seven-time Tour champion wasn't there to make up the numbers. Soon after it was time for Barredo and Fedrigo to counter and quickly open a gap.
But by the top of the Soulor it had effectively all come together, albeit with the loss of Casar - who had instigated the move on top of the Aspin - and Konovalovas, although with the Aubisque still to come there were sure to be more machinations amongst the leaders, who enjoyed a lead in excess of nine minutes.
There seemed to be a truce in the final two kilometres of the Aubisque as the expected attacks hadn't eventuated and the fiercest battle being fought was between Moreau and Fedrigo for the 40 points in the mountains classification, with the 39-year-old taking the maximum collection to go with his efforts on the Tourmalet.
After a twisting descent and a stabilisation of the break's advantage, Barredo hit out alone with 44km remaining in what was a brave move; possibly inspired by teammate Sylvain Chavanel's exploits in the first week of the Tour, the Spaniard assuredly put his head down and dreamt of victory in Pau.
Incidentally Casar had caught the break on the descent, adding his weight to the seven other riders who were now confronted with a marauding Barredo and could use the extra horsepower in its pursuit of the Spaniard, who continued to build his lead to nearly 30 seconds.
With 30km to go, that lead was almost 50 seconds although 10 kilometres later it had been eaten down to half a minute, RadioShack's experienced pair of pursuers not panicking in their mission to hunt down the plucky Spaniard.
Eight kilometres and over eight minutes behind them, the peloton - led by Van Den Broeck's Omega Pharma-Lotto's teammates - was keeping the break's advantage in check to ensure no unpleasant surprises greeted the general classification contenders in Pau. There had been no significant attacks on any of the climbs and so it was a loss-minimisation mission on the flat for the likes of Mario Aerts and co.
At five kilometres to go Barredo could continue to believe, the gap between himself and the chasing group sitting at 30 seconds. Three kilometres later that had been reduced to 11 seconds as Horner and Plaza drove the pursuit to the flamme rouge, which brought about the desired effect and set off the jostling for position in the final sprint.
Whilst Armstrong made an effort to get to the front of the group in the last 200m it was a flying Fedrigo who buzzed up the right barriers and on to victory, a significant salute at the end to a significant day of the Tour's Pyrenean adventure.
|1||Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||5:31:43|
|2||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Christopher Horner (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||0:00:28|
|10||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||0:06:45|
|11||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Eros Capecchi (Ita) Footon-Servetto||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Alexander Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Astana||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Sergio Paulinho (Por) Team Radioshack||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Koos Moerenhout (Ned) Rabobank||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) Cervelo Test Team||0:06:59|
|61||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:08:22|
|62||David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Transitions||0:09:27|
|63||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack||0:10:01|
|64||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||0:23:42|
|65||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 65 - Cell 2|