Voeckler takes third in Pau
Thomas Voeckler came close to winning a second stage in the Tour but in the end was forced to settle for third place in Pau. The Team Europcar road captain was part of a six-man breakaway in the 158km stage 15 but was outfoxed by former team-mate Pierrick Fedrigo at the finish.
It took a long time for the day's decisive break to form in stage 15 of the Tour de France - but when it did happen, Team Europcar were predictably involved. Continuing the team's unparalleled involvement in the vast majority of attacks on the Tour, Thomas Voeckler joined fellow Frenchmen Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) and Samuel Dumoulin (Codifis) in a six-man break along with Belgian Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Dane Nikki Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) and the American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp).
The break did not form until 60km into the short but hilly 158km stage from Samatan to Pau, the gateway of the Pyrenees. At least two tentative breaks - one of which including Yukiya Arashiro - had already been thwarted by a nervous peloton that was riding at a fast pace over the winding, narrow roads of the Gers region. With many teams still in the hunt for a first win on the Tour, there was a constant battle for riders to take the correct ticket.
Voeckler's group finally made their gap stick - and once the initial five-man break was joined by Sorensen, the advantage ballooned to a huge 12 minutes over a peloton seemingly content to take an early rest day. During this time, Voeckler took the maximum four points up for grabs over three minor climbs to consolidate his fourth-place in the king of the mountains standings.
With 10km until the finish, Sorensen put in two big attacks but was reeled in on both occasions. Fedrigo, however, spotted the uncertainty within the leading group by counter-attacking with 5km remaining, taking Vande Velde with him. Voeckler combined with Sorensen to lead the chase - but it was too late. The canny Fedrigo held his nerve to take the fourth Tour win of his career two year's after winning in Pau when riding alongside Voeckler at Bouygues Telecom - the previous incarnation of Team Europcar. In fact, Fedrigo's three previous wins in the Tour all came while riding for Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's squad.
Five days after his magnificent stage 11 victory at Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, Voeckler was forced to settle for third place ahead of Sorensen, 12 seconds off the pace. "Everyone was wary of me because of my win the other day so I found myself in a difficult position," said Voeckler. "I knew that I was going to be carrying the non-French riders on my wheel. It became very tactical at the finish. I tried some things but Pierrick was really too strong. I tried to return to his wheel – but if I turn myself inside out, it’s to win myself, and not to help another rider win. But Pierrick is a worthy winner – he went for it himself and totally deserves it."
Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) led the peloton over the line 11:50 in arrears ahead of the American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and the green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). The Tour enters the second rest day with Britain’s Bradley Wiggins retaining his 2:05 lead over compatriot and Sky team-mate Chris Froome. Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is third, 2:23 down, and defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) fourth, at 3:19. Stage 11 winner at La Toussuire, Pierre Rolland is ninth place, 8:31 off the summit.
On a sad note, Team Europcar lost their first riders on Monday when Vincent Jerome and Giovanni Bernaudeau were both forced to abandon the race.
The race resumes on Wednesday with the 197km stage 16 which features the famous Pyrenean climbs of the Col d’Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and Col de Peyresourd before a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. An ideal parcours for Rolland to ride up the GC and target a second stage win - and a third for Europcar.