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 Christian Vande Velde of the U.S. the only rider keeping pace. The American, not a sprinter, lost the two-man dash.
Sprinters and breakaway specialists saw this course as one of their last chances to win a stage, 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, got off and chucked it onto the roadside as his Team Sky staff quickly fetched 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 behind, while defending champion Cadel Evans remains fourth, 3:19 back.
"There are some gaps, but it's never finished. We are in a good position, that's for sure," pointing to Saturday's time trial, one of his specialties. He won the first one over 26 miles in Stage 9. The upcoming time trial is 33 miles.
"We've already seen it. It's not easy," he said. "The last time trial at the Tour is not the same as the one in the first week."
Wiggins has not thought much about the punishing days that await in the Pyrenees on Wednesday and Thursday. The ride Thursday features six climbs, including an uphill finish.
"I just always look one day at a time," he said. "I always think if you start looking too far ahead you forget what's in front of you."
Garmin-Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters, who once had Wiggins on his team, said he's been predicting victory by the Briton for months — in part because the layout suits his strengths.
"Brad's biggest rival in this race is Brad, in his own head, and as long as he stays calm and focused then he's going to win it" he said. "I've always felt that this Tour was going to be a runaway for Wiggins."