It was a fourth career Tour stage win for 33-year-old FDJ-BigMat rider Fedrigo – whose last victory on the Tour came on the race’s previous visit to Pau back in 2010.
Fedrigo launched his decisive attack from a six-man group with 5km remaining of the short and lumpy 158km stage in south-west France.
Garmin-Sharp’s Vande Velde managed to latch onto the Frenchman’s wheel but had no answer when Fedrigo jumped out of the saddle in the closing metres. Another Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), took third place ahead of Denmark’s Nikki Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), 12 seconds back.
Yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins crossed the line safely alongside his GC rivals in the peloton almost 12 minutes in arrears to retain the race lead ahead of the Tour’s second rest day.
“It’s really incredible,” said Fedrigo, whose 2011 campaign was largely wiped out after he contracted the debilitating Lyme disease while hunting in the off-season.
“When you’re on the Tour you have to read the situations and get into the right breaks,” he added. ”It was a very strong group – with riders like Sorensen and Voeckler – but I waited for the right moment and took my chance.”
The breakaway did not form until 60km into the stage after a fast and nervous start saw numerous thwarted attempts over the rolling terrain of the Gers region near Toulouse.
Frenchmen Fedrigo and Voeckler were joined by compatriot Samuel Dumoulin (Codifis), Belgian Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and the American Vande Velde off the front of a peloton which had already reeled in two previous minor breaks.
Denmark’s Sorensen nevertheless fought back against apparent orders by Team Sky to slow down in the bunch by darting off in pursuit of the five leaders.
As the break quickly built up a lead of five minutes, Sorensen rode along alone in no-man’s land 45 seconds off the pace. This prompted his Saxo Bank team to come to the front of the peloton and increase the tempo. Moments later, the five escapees sat up and allowed Sorensen to join the action after the information was seemingly relayed through on radio.
Once Sorensen was part of the break, Saxo Bank dropped off the front and the pace slowed considerably. Soon the leaders had carved out a 12-minute gap on a largely indifferent peloton.
Three minor climbs in the second half of the stage proved little obstacle, with Voeckler taking the points over each peak.
As the leaders entered the final 10km, Sorensen made two failed attempts at breaking clear – the second of which Fedrigo used as a springboard for his own counter-attack.
Vande Velde latched onto the Frenchman’s wheel but missed out once again to Fedrigo – who beat the American into third place back in 2006 when he took his first stage win on the Tour de France.
Voeckler and Sorensen made a last-ditch effort to return to the wheels of the two leaders inside the final three kilometres but neither rider had the strength. They crossed the line 12 seconds down, with Devenyns taking fifth at 21 seconds and an exhausted Dumoulin rolling home more than a minute down for sixth.
“It’s a great day for the team and for Pierrick who won here in 2010,” said FDJ-BigMat manager Mark Madiot after his team’s second stage win - and France's fourth - in this year’s Tour. “We knew he’d be okay today once he got in the break. Whenever Pierrick’s in a break he’s always in terrific condition.”
Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) led the peloton over the line 11:50 in arrears ahead of the American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and the green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
The Tour enters the second rest day with Britain’s Wiggins retaining his 2:05 lead over compatriot and Sky team-mate Chris Froome. Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is third, 2:23 down, and defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) fourth, at 3:19.
The race resumes on Wednesday with the 197km stage 16 which features the famous Pyrenean climbs of the Col d’Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and Col de Peyresourd before a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon.