PAU, France — Bradley Wiggins knows he's well-positioned to win the Tour de France. But with the banged-up, frenetic and weary pack nearing the final rest day of the three-week race, he wasn't taking any chances Monday.
A hasty, nervous start to Stage 15 in the Pyreness foothills ultimately gave way to a stage victory by Pierrick Fedrigo. The Frenchman led a six-man breakaway as Wiggins played it safe, almost 12 minutes behind in the pack.
The 99-mile route from Samatan to Pau was a mostly flat layout that might favor a sprint finish, but teams with strong sprinters didn't lay chase.
Fedrigo bolted from the breakaway group with about 4 miles left, with only Christian Vande Velde of the United States keeping pace. The American, not a sprint expert, lost the two-man dash.
"I wish there was a hill to finish it up on, but that's the way it goes," said Vande Velde.
Sprinters and breakaway specialists saw this course as one of their last chances, knowing mountains and a time trial dominate the last five race days.
"I thought the attacks at the start wouldn't last so long. It went on for almost two hours, but the terrain took its toll," Wiggins said, referring to the deceptively hilly route. "There are a lot of tired bodies out there."
From the outset, Wiggins was cautious. He noticed a "little problem" with his bike, and chucked it onto the roadside as his Team Sky staff got another.
"I changed it right away because I preferred doing that than taking a risk if the race went all out after that," Wiggins said.
Overall, Wiggins leads second-place teammate Christopher Froome by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 back, and Cadel Evans is fourth, 3:19 back.