One of the more technical stages of the 2010 Tour de France made for a fast, exciting, up-and-down (literally) 131-mile ride from Bourg-de-Péage to Mende. The bumpy course of Stage 12 culminated with a climb up the Montée Laurent Jalaber, a short -- just 3 km -- but very steep -- 10-11% gradients -- climb to the finish. Podium Cafe predicted that this Alberto Contador special would "open up splits in the field," and indeed it did.
Contador (Astana), defending Tour champion, repeated his effort from Paris-Nice 2010 and exploded up the hill, accelerating away from his rivals, including Andy Schleck and his yellow jersey. He quickly caught, and passed, the break-away group before battling Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha Team) over the final 1 km, all while having the appearance of a cyclist out for a casual ride on a Sunday morning. Rodriguez proved to be the faster sprinter to the finish line to earn the win in Stage 12, but Contador managed to gain a valuable 10 seconds, and now trails Schleck by only 31 seconds.
Podium Cafe says that if Contador was trying to send a message, it likely was successful.
Contador's effort overcame his own teammate Alexandre Vinokourov in the final kilometer, after Vino separated from the remnants of the day's breakaway on the Mende ascent.
Schleck remains in yellow, but must have some doubts in his mind, as he gave back ten seconds in a phase of the Tour where he needs to be padding his lead. Meanwhile, Thor Hushovd used a few intermediate sprints to retake the green jersey, and Anthony Charteau overtook Jerome Pineau once again in their two-man battle for the KOM.
Elsewhere on the Tour on Friday, American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) announced he was withdrawing from the race, dropping out just 32 minutes into Stage 12. This news comes a day after he finished third in Stage 11's sprint (with the now infamous Mark Renshaw headbutting incident). It's not clear if something happened to Farrar today, or if the pain of riding with a broken wrist suffered in Stage 2 just grew to be too much to bear.
General Classification After Stage 12:
1. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank
2. Alberto Contador, Astana (+ 00:31)
3. Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi (+ 02:45)
4. Denis Menchov, Rabobank (+ 02:58)
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto (+ 03:31)
6. Levi Leipheimer, Radioshack (+ 04:06)
32. Lance Armstrong, Radioshack (+ 21:16)
Saturday's Stage 13 is technically considered a "flat stage," but there are five climbs, including two in the third-category, as the Tour rides 122 miles from Rodez to Revel in southern France. The Côte de St-Ferréol, a steep hill just before the finish, could provide opportunity for a quick break-away. A nice preview before the Tour's hardest stretch: four days in the Pyrenees.
For more, visit our cycling blog, Podium Cafe, for all things Tour de France.