France's Pierrick Fedrigo won stage 15 of the Tour de France on Monday, as Britain's Bradley Wiggins consolidated his hold on the leader's yellow jersey. The 158.5km ride between Samatan and Pau saw a further six riders withdraw from the race as the Grand Tour entered the closing stages.
Fedrigo became the fourth Frenchman to win a stage at this year's race when he beat Christian Vande Velde in a sprint to the line in Pau. The two racers had surged ahead of the leading pack with 6.5km to go.
"I don't know why I attacked, it was just instinct. But when Vande Velde stopped giving me relays in the last kilometre I knew that I would soon have to sprint," explained Fedrigo.
"Thankfully, I've got a little more punch than him," he said.
Wiggins edged nearer to a place in the record books with a solid, if uninspiring, ride. No Englishman has won the Tour de France before, and Wiggins' Team Sky has made it clear they value the yellow jersey above the other titles on offer.
Wiggins' teammate Mark Cavendish would have expected to be part of the pack sprinting for a stage win, but he stuck to team orders and helped protect Wiggins as he rode to maintain his overall lead.
The leader described Cavendish as "a great champion and a great friend" after the race, and admitted that his teammate had "been so committed to my cause - to the yellow jersey."
Team Sky has suggested they will try to give Olympic hopeful Cavendish a chance to win the final sprint stage in Paris, on Sunday. "Obviously there is still the stage to Paris for him, and we're going to lay it down in Paris for him and try to get him the win there."
Wiggins told AFP, "He's also got the Olympic road race, that's his main objective this year. In the end, we've got a difficult task on our hands to try and win the yellow jersey."
With only five stages left in this year's Tour, six more riders withdrew from the race . Their have now been 42 withdrawals from this year's race.
Syvain Chavanal was the most notable retiree. The French time trial champion was struggling to breathe as he felt the effects of a chest infection.
"He's lost his voice and he'd been finding it hard to breathe," explained Chavanal's team's sporting director. "This morning he was really sick. He spoke with the doctors of the team and they've advised him it would be best to pull out of the tour."
The riders have a rest day on Tuesday before resuming the Tour with a 197km ride from Pau to Bagneres-du-Luchon, including four mountain climbs, on Wednesday.