Garmin-Sharp Pain almost pulled a second surprise today in sunny Pau. Veteran Christian Vande Velde nearly pulled off an unexpected victory, battling Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ-BigMat) in a two man sprint after they pulled away from their four breakaway companions.
Vande Velde looked strong and confident but sadly under-geared and a few watts short. Although he put Fédrigo on the front in the final kilometer, the Frenchman took his fourth Tour de France win and his second in Pau. The man with the biggest nose in the peloton knows how it’s done in Le Grand Shindig.
“When we found ourselves up front with strong riders like Vande Velde and Sorensen, a cunning man like Voeckler, and a fast sprinter like Dumoulin, it is complicated to create a strategy, said Fédrigo. “Sometimes I have to wait a bit to decide how to manage it all.”
While Fédrigo executed this strategy to perfection, Vande Velde figured his odds weren’t that promising. “I knew my chances were slim and none in the sprint against Fedrigo,” said Vande Velde. ” He’s a lot quicker than I am. I was happy to play my cards.”
He played all the cards well except the final one. The first two hours of racing were full gas and no breaks stuck but finally after 98 kilometers Vande Velde and Fédrigo made the selection along with Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis). Twenty kilometers later Nicki Sörensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) managed to bridge up and then the peloton got a jump on tomorrow’s rest day.
The six riders rode a smooth and fast rotation, knocking out a gap of almost 10 minutes. Behind them Team Sky pedaled liked they were on a tourist holiday and just looking for a nice restaurant to stop for a snack and an aperitif. Pierre Rolland did not try any unapproved attacks and kept a low profile. It was a tack-free day.
With just over ten kilometers to the finish, Sörensen rocketed up the left side of the road. Voeckler and Dumoulin shut him down but the Dane went again a few clicks later with the same result. Fédrigo won in Pau two years ago and he was the man to watch but only Vande Velde was watching closely. At roughly the six kilometer mark , the Frenchman blew the breakaway apart and only Vande Velde was quick enough to jump on the wheel.
Voeckler did his usual hand waving and “why won’t anybody help me” routine but it was too late. He already nailed his Tour win on stage 10 so he could afford to make someone else do the chasing. They didn’t. Poor little Sammy Dumoulin, the only sprinter in the group, was left behind and once again the under-performing Codifis has little to show for this Tour.
Into Pau they raced, Fédrigo and Vande Velde. Back in 2006, he’d beaten the American in a three man break and it was deja vu all over again in France. He opened his sprint and Vande Velde simply didn’t have the legs that his heart hoped to find. Pau roars for another French win in Le Tour.
“This time I launched the last attack with five kilometres to go,” said Fédrigo . “I was going on feel, and I thought it was the right time. And then we had to hang on to our advantage and I bet everything on the sprint.” Given his successes in Le Tour, it was a strong bet. And really, the team sponsor is the French Lottery so the man knows how to gamble.
However, you could call it a kind of victory for Vande Velde. According to his father, he’d been in tears yesterday, down and depressed. The Garmin-Sharp Pain squad has had a miserable, hard luck tour, saved only by David Millar’s surprise win on stage 12.
“Its been hard, I’m not gonna lie. Its been rough but we keep on pushing on. We’ve had more knocks than anytime in the existence of slipstream sports,” said Vande Velde. “Thank God Millar won that stage and I came close today. We’re not done yet. We’ll keep on trying.”