France's Fedrigo wins dramatic 14th stage

 

Tour de France: Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo won a war of nerves, surviving a 145-km breakaway to win a crash-hit 14th stage of the Tour de France over 180.5 kilometres from Montelimar to Gap today.

The 2005 French champion outsprinted Italian Salvatore Commesso in a nail-biting finish with chasing American Christian Vandevelde third three seconds behind.

The peloton, who looked poised to catch the escapees, finished seven seconds adrift of the Bouygues Telecom rider, whose tactics paid off in the last metres of the stage. Spaniard Oscar Pereiro retained his overall leader's yellow jersey.

"We had a good first week but all our breakaway attempts failed so we wanted to make amends for this," said Fedrigo. "In the final, I did not look back, I stayed behind Commesso and kept focused on the finish line."

The stage got off to a nervous start, with four riders, including American George Hincapie, trying their luck after six kilometres. The attempt was short-lived as France's Christophe Moreau, American Levi Leipheimer and Spaniard Carlos Sastre joined the group.

At the 35-km mark five riders broke away from the peloton. Discovery Channel's Egoi Martinez was quickly dropped as Belgium's Mario Aerts and Rik Verbrugghe, Italy's Commesso and German Matthias Kessler were caught by Fedrigo and Spaniard David Canada.

The six fugitives opened a 5:35 gap, prompting the Quick Step team to launch the pursuit 55kms from the finish.

The lead dropped quickly and the group was reduced to three men when Verbrugghe, Canada and Kessler fell over a crash barrier 39kms from the line. Kessler got back on his bike while Verbrugghe and Canada pulled out with nasty injuries.

Cofidis rider Verbrugghe was suffering a possible leg fracture and was being transported to the nearest hospital, said the Tour's chief doctor Gerard Porte. Canada picked up a right collarbone fracture, Porte added.

The Liquigas team moved up front in an attempt to catch the three escapees but were not helped in their effort. Fedrigo attacked the leading group in the category two Col de la Sentinelle and Aerts was unable to follow the Frenchman and Commesso.

The peloton blew up in the climb but the favourites led by last year's polka-dot jersey winner Mickael Rasmussen were in front 1:20 adrift of the fugitives with 10 kms to go.

The Discovery Channel team launched a late pursuit to offer a stage victory to American George Hincapie but it was too late.

Monday is a welcome rest day for the riders before three consecutive stages of high mountain climbing in the Alps.