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Franaise des Jeux were left as the only French team without a stage win during this most unpredictable of Tours when former French champion Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) outwitted fellow breakaway Salvatore Commesso (Lampre) to win in Gap. The 2005 French champion got onto the Italian's wheel coming into the final 500 metres, stayed calm as the yellow jersey group surged in close behind them, and delivered a winning kick with 100 metres left.
Despite being up against a noted fast finisher in Commesso, who has won two Tour stages in the past, 27-year-old Fedrigo has got a good kick of his own and must have fancied it was going to be his day after he narrowly missed being downed when three fellow breakaways crashed with 40km remaining.
At that point the leading group was six-strong. A lot of frantic activity right from the start of the stage only calmed with a signal from race leader Oscar Pereiro for the peloton to ease off after 65km of wind-assisted high-speed riding. That left Fedrigo and Commesso clear with four others: Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis), Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile), David Ca¤ada (Saunier Duval) and Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto).
These six established a lead of almost six minutes after 110km before the peloton started to up its pace again. With 40km left, the six were still four minutes clear as they swept downhill into a right-hand bend. Verbrugghe and Ca¤ada both started to slide, either due to melting of the road in the hot sun - remember this happening to Joseba Beloki on another hot day into Gap? - or perhaps oil on the road. Ca¤ada's slide took him into the roadside safety barrier, and inadvertently forced Kessler, the only rider behind him, into a dramatic somersault over the barrier.
Ahead of them, Verbrugghe went over the barrier too, as the other three riders stayed upright and sped on. "At the moment of the crash I felt Verbrugghe's bike touch my shoulder. I saw him fall but I managed to stay balanced," Fedrigo described later. "Eventually the disappointment of some gave joy to others, it's really a big shame that it had to end this way... Actually, when it happened I didn't even consider what to do. There was no time for questions, you only think of the effort that you still have to put in."
Ca¤ada was soon on his feet but making signals that his collar-bone was broken and his race over. Verbrugghe's situation looked even worse as he received treatment in the bushes below the road. It was a relief to see the Belgian veteran moving his arm eventually, and he was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg. Kessler, remarkably, remounted and joined the bunch when it came through.
Aerts was dropped from the lead group on the final climb of the Col de la Sentinelle, setting up the finale between Fedrigo and Commesso. "I managed to remain well focused in the final kilometre and came into the finale on the wheel of Commesso without any panic and I knew there was no turning back. and it all worked out," said the winner.
Race leader Pereiro was happy too to keep the yellow jersey going into tomorrow's rest day. "Today was a very good day. I had good sensations and it's important to say thank you very much to the whole team because they worked very well. In the final, I knew that I would earn another day in yellow and it's thanks to the work done by my team-mates. I'm a little tired but on the final climb today I still felt good and was able to stay at the front of the peloton. I think that I've got some good form," he said.
"Of course, it's my intention to defend the yellow jersey but I really don't how it will finish in the Alps but I'll be riding at my limit to make this moment last as long as possible."
Stage 14, Montelimar-Gap
1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 180.5km in 4.14.23 (42.57kph)
2 Salvatore Commesso (Ita) Lampre
3 Christian Vande Velde (USA) CSC 0.03
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r 0.07
5 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner
6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
7 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank
8 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis
9 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel
10 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 64.05.04
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 1.29
3 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r 1.37
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 2.30
5 Evans 2.46
6 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 3.21
7 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 3.58
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 4.51
9 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel 5.02
10 Moreau 5.13
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 252
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 222
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 207
1 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 80
2 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 73
3 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r 62
Best young rider: Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner
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