TDF Stage 12 Recap

16 Jul

As expected Stage 12 was a difficult stage – actually brutal is more like it. Stage 12 had five categorized climbs, hot temperatures, a fast tempo and the steepest, albeit short, climb I recall ever seeing in the Tour.

Stage 12 began with a group of 18 riders getting into a breakaway. In this group were three GC contenders (Vinokourov, Kloden, Hesjedal), plus Green jersey hopeful, Thor Hushovd. The fourth man, Vasil Kiryienka, was a threat to Team Radio Shack in the team competition. With the threat to the GC presented by Vinokourov, Kloden and Hesjedal, the peloton could not allow the breakaway to open up too big a gap. This kept the pressure on Saxo Bank as well as other teams (Rabobank, Cervelo, Liquigas, Omega Pharma-Lotto) to keep the pace up, minimize the time gap, eventually reeling them all back in before the finish. This is what the teams driving the peloton were hoping for anyway.

At about 50km from the finish, Hushovd raced and took the last sprint points of the day putting him back in the Green jersey. At this point, he sat up (quit racing) and waited to rejoin the peloton. About this same time, four riders – Vinokourov, Kloden, Hesjedal and Kiryienka – took off from the breakaway sensing they would need to pick up the pace to avoid being caught by the fast approaching peloton. At this point, the 4-man group had a gap of 3:38 on the peloton.

At the 5km point, the gap was down to under one minute. Vinokourov and Kiryienka dropped Kloden and Hesjedal, who could not maintain the pace. At 3.5km, Vinokourov dropped Kiryienka, now alone heading towards the finish and the final climb.

The final climb came at just under 3k. With an average gradient of 10%, but parts at 14% – it looked like the riders were going straight up. It looked brutal.

There is one guy in the peloton that chews climbs like this up – Alberto Contador. A climb so brief and steep takes an explosive climber to use it to his advantage and that is exactly what Contador did.

Tour first timer, Joaquim Rodriguez, attacked first and Contador countered with an attack of his own catching rival Andy Schleck off guard. Current yellow jersey wearer, Schleck, was moving to the inside probably looking for the shortest line when Contador attacked.  He quickly opened up a gap of several bike lengths on Schleck.
Rodriguez got on Contador’s wheel and the two raced towards the finish overtaking Contador’s teammate, Vinokourov. Contador and Rodriguez sprinted for the finish, Contador finishing just behind Rodriguez – giving fellow Spaniard, Rodriguez, the stage win – both riders getting the same finish time. Vinokourov came in 3rd, :04 behind, Schleck recovered somewhat and was able to close the gap finishing in 5th, just behind Jurgen Van Den Broeck at 00:10 back.
Although Contador’s time gain was only 10 seconds, the psychological benefits to him over Schleck were much greater. The upcoming stages in the Pyrenees will also bring similar type climbs.  These types of climbs in the past have given Contador an advantage – over Schleck and everyone else in the GC for that matter.
Contador sent a message to all those that have said that his form doesn’t seem as good as last year’s – that there is nothing wrong with his form, thank you very much.

Schleck held on to the Yellow jersey, his lead down to 31 seconds over Contador. Hushovd took back the Green jersey from Alessandro Petacchi and Anthony Charteau reclaimed the Polka-dot jersey as best climber.  Team Radio Shack leads Caisse d’Epargne by just 21 seconds in the Team Classification.  Vinokourov was rewarded for his efforts with most aggressive rider for the stage.

The race for Yellow, Green and Polka Dot jerseys is far from over, and the race for 3rd place on the podium is even more competitive – with eight riders within three minutes of each other. Lots of excitement to come in the final nine stages of this year’s Tour.

Contador was able to gain a little time over Schleck when he timed his move perfectly.  Schleck is wary now, you can be sure the two men will keep each other in close view from now to the end.

On a very sad note, Garmin-Transitions sprinter, Tyler Farrar, abandoned the Tour de France with 50km left in today’s stage. According to G-T management, Farrar was dropped on the first climb; unable to recover he chose to drop out of the race entirely. Since his crash in Stage 2, Farrar battled with toughness and commitment each day despite his broken wrist. Yesterday was especially disappointing and frustrating for him with the Mark Renshaw incident; it is unfortunate he had to drop out. A bad Tour continues for Garmin-Transitions leaving just six of the original nine riders still competing. Robbie Hunter left the Tour prior to Stage 11 because of injury, and Christian Vande Velde, leader of the squad, crashed and had to abandon the first week.

Stage 13
Stage 13 has climbs, but no serious mountain – only rolling terrain.  In other words, nothing steep enough to allow Contador or Schleck to jump and take off alone.  That should make the peloton quite happy after the intensity of today’s finish. If a GC contender attacks tomorrow, the rest are sure to follow – so why waste the effort.

Tomorrow will be another day for breakaways, possibly producing the winner of the stage.  Watch as team tactics come into play for green jersey and polka dot jersey points hunting.  Also, Radio Shack and Caisse d’Epargne will continue to battle for the team classification.

*Pictures are from Getty Images

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