- Pierrick Fedrigo becomes fourth French stage winner at this year's race
- Wiggins thanks Cavendish for sacrificing himself for yellow jersey chase
- Six more riders withdraw from race as it enters the closing stages
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 158.5-kilometer ride between Samatan and Pau saw a further six riders withdraw from the race as cycling's premier event entered its third and final week.
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 6.5 km to go.
"I don't know why I attacked, it was just instinct. But when Vande Velde stopped giving me relays in the last kilometer I knew that I would soon have to sprint," Fedrigo said.
"Thankfully, I've got a little more punch than him."
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 have made it clear they value the yellow jersey above the other titles on offer.
Last year's green jersey winner 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 32-year-old, who was born in Belgium where his Australian father was based, finished in the peloton 11 minutes and 50 seconds behind Fedrigo.
Wiggins remained two minutes and five seconds ahead of teammate Chris Froome, with Italy's Vincenzo Nibali third at 2:23 behind and Australia's defending champion Cadel Evans fourth (3:19).
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 will, however, try to give Olympic hopeful Cavendish a chance to win Sunday's final sprint stage in Paris.
"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 said.
"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 to win the yellow jersey."
With only five stages left in this year's Tour, the field is now down to 156 riders following 42 withdrawals.
Sylvain Chavanel was Monday's 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 his team Omega-Pharma's sporting director Brian Holm. "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 with a 197 km ride from Pau to Bagneres-du-Luchon, including four mountain climbs, on Wednesday.