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Contador claws back time to leave Schleck with a mountain to climb

Stage 12: Bourg-de-Péage > Mende (210.5 km)

After the short, sharp shock of the closing climb of the Côte de la Croix-Neuve Montée Laurent Jalabert, Katusha‘s Joaquín Rodríguez out-sprinted Alberto Contador to take his first Tour de France stage. Contador took 10 seconds out of yellow jersey Andy Schleck, the exact amount he had lost in the final kilometre of last Sunday’s climb to Avoriaz. Meanwhile, both the green and polka dot jerseys changed hands on a day of incremental rather than decisive gains.

Yellow jersey Andy Schleck

As the Tour continues westwards from the Alps to the Pyrenees today was, quite categorically, not a standard transition stage. Featuring five categorised climbs, the last being the Montée Laurent Jalabert – only 3.1 km, but with an average 10% gradient which makes it the steepest ascent in this year’s Tour – it was a stage designed to encourage attacks among the leading riders with the opportunity to claw back a chunk of time on those ahead of them.

The day started with a few early and unsuccessful breaks before 18 riders escaped on the second climb. The group included some notable names: Contador’s right-hand man Alexandre Vinokourov, RadioShack‘s Andreas Klöden, Anthony Charteau (second in the King of the Mountains) and Thor Hushovd (second in the green jersey competition). Charteau accumulated enough points over the summits to reclaim the polka dot jersey, while Hushovd picked up 10 of 12 available points at the two intermediate sprints to move six ahead of Alessandro Petacchi in the points competition.

The powerful Norwegian, who has looked heavy-legged in recent sprint finishes, recognised the importance of targeting intermediate bonuses in a competition which he expects to come down to the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées a week on Sunday:

The biggest threat to the green jersey is Petacchi because he’s the closest on points. Of course Cavendish is really fast now but he’s still a few points behind. Still, I expect it to be a big battle until Paris.

Joaquín Rodríguez

After Hushovd had won the second sprint, Klöden initiated a four-man attack, forcing Liquigas, Cervelo and Saxo Bank to the front of the peloton to reel them back in as they approached the final climb.

Rodríguez then launched an attack off the front of the yellow jersey group, to which only Contador was able to respond. Inch by inch, the pair pulled slowly clear of the maillot jaune and the few remaining elite riders up to the summit of the mountain, although they never quite shook them off completely.

On the flat finish on the aerodrome runway, they contested a two-up sprint, which Rodríguez won with a well-timed acceleration from about 150 metres out to claim his maiden Tour victory.

Rodríguez said afterwards that he had now fulfilled both his aims for this Tour:

I was very clear at the start of the Tour. I wanted to win a stage and get the best possible position in the general classification. I’m glad to see that today the two objectives have come good at the same time. I find myself with a stage victory and a very good place in GC.

When asked for his opinion on which of Schleck and Contador he thought would come out on top in the battle for the yellow jersey, he unsurprisingly backed his compatriot and former ONCE teammate for the overall win:

I feel that the stages that are coming up are more favourable for Alberto. I also think Andy Schleck has already spent a lot of energy in the first part of the Tour. In my opinion, Alberto has the biggest chance for the final victory.

Unable to match the two Spaniards’ attack, Schleck rode calmly to the finish and limited his losses to just 10 seconds as he finished alongside Jurgen van den BroeckSamuel Sánchez, Denis Menchov and Klöden. Although he remains in yellow, his lead has now been reduced to just 31 seconds, nowhere near enough given the time he will concede to Contador in the individual time trial. It remains imperative for him to attack Contador if possible in the Pyrenees. Nonetheless, he seemed reasonably satisfied with today’s outcome:

I counted on losing a couple of seconds to Alberto today because I really don’t like this climb. It’s really short and you cannot really find a rhythm. At the end he only gained 10 seconds, and that’s like what I took out of him at Morzine-Avoriaz.

Ultimately, little changed at the top of the GC. Other than Rodríquez moving up one place to eighth overall, the top seven all finished within 15 seconds of the stage winner, so it is pretty much as you were. Tomorrow is unlikely to place any undue stress on the GC contenders, but it is the final opportunity to draw breath before the race enters its decisive phase in the Pyrenees on Sunday.

Stage 12 result:

1. Joaquín Rodríguez (Katusha) 4:58:26

2. Alberto Contador (Astana) same time

3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +0:04

4. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:10

5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) s/t

General classification (yellow jersey):

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 58:42:01

2. Alberto Contador (Astana) +0:31

3. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +2:45

4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +2:58

5. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +3:31

6. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +4:06

7. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +4:27

8. Joaquín Rodríquez (Katusha) +4:58

9. Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) +5:02

10. Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) +5:16

Selected others:

11. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +5:30

12. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +6:25

13. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +6:25

16. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +7:39

18. Cadel Evans (BMC) +8:08

32. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +21:16

Points classification (green jersey):

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 167 pts

2. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 161

3. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 138

4. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 132

5. José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) 122

Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):

1. Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 107 pts

2. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 92

3. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 64

4. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne) 62

5. Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 58

Stage 13 preview:

Start & finish: Rodez > Revel

Distance & type: 196 km, plain

Prediction: A third category climb less than 10 km from the end may negate the sprinters, or play into the hands of power merchants like Thor Hushovd or Óscar Freire. A very good chance for a breakaway win here with the Pyrenees coming up next, particularly if the depleted HTC-Columbia and other sprint teams don’t feel they have the legs to control the front of the peloton over the final climb. Lance Armstrong has been notably quiet and conserving his energies over the past few days. Could this be the day he targets for a valedictory stage win?

For more reviews and informed comments about the Tour de France, please read any (or all!) of the following excellent blogs:

Marc’s sports blog

Todd Kinsey’s TDF blog

SportPH

Cyclingproject365

Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road

The social cyclist

Gonecycling

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

6 Responses to Contador claws back time to leave Schleck with a mountain to climb

  1. gonecycling says:

    A clear, comprehensive summary as ever, Tim. Really enjoying your coverage!

  2. Sheree says:

    Ditto, great summary. I would have loved for Vino to win the stage but far better that his team win the yellow jersey. I’m now really looking forward to the battle between the two protagonists in the Pyrenees.

  3. Tim says:

    Vino didn’t look overly happy at the end yesterday, as he was so close to a stage win himself. But it wasn’t really Astana or Contador’s fault, I guess, seeing as it was Rodriguez who initiated the key attack.

    Today’s stage looks fun too. I had initially discounted Cavendish, but from the way HTC-Columbia are riding at the front, I think he must fancy his chances. Chris Boardman reckons the profile is not dissimilar from Milan-San Remo, which Cav won in 2009. No doubt Cav would like to stick up two metaphorical fingers at the commissaires for DQ’ing Renshaw, and we know how fast he can ride when he’s angry …

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