Joaquin Rodriguez outsprinted Alberto Contador in Mende today to take stage 12 of the Tour de France. At 3.1km the climb to Mende aerodrome is one of the shortest classified climbs in the race, but metre for metre it provided more drama than any other.
As the remnants of the early break were scattered back down the climb that averages 10.1% but hits over 14% in places, they were swept up one-by-one by the bunch, even though the general contenders were playing a waiting game.
Saxo Bank set a steady place, but with the metres ticking by, no one looked ready to make a move. Ahead Alexandre Vinokourov, who’d left his break away rivals on the steep slopes, was stretching his lead out.
The pace of the bunch was enough to see a constant stream of riders fall out the back, but still no one would make a move.
Finally the waiting game was over. Rodriguez went, immediately followed by Jurgen Van Den Broeck, the surprise package of this year’s race.
They were just a few metres clear of the thinning bunch when Alberto Contador jumped up the left hand gutter. The reigning Tour champion was immediatley clear as Andy Schleck failed to react.
His hesitation cost him dear.
When he finally made his move Contador was 20 metres ahead and looking good. As the helicopter shot looked down on them it was clear that the Spaniard was moving faster.
Rodriguez stayed with him and the pair were quickly passed Vinokourov. Behind Schleck kept the pace high but Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov were able to claw their way up to him.
As the road narrowed with the weight of the crowd it looked like either group could be blocked by the motorbikes at any moment. Suddenly, as the riders crested the top of the climb the road opened up and Contador was time trialling his way to the finish line.
His gap looked good, perhaps not enough to take over the race lead, but enough to come within just a few seconds of Schleck. But on the short descent to the line Schleck was able to limit his losses to just ten.
Rodriguez’s win was a mere formality. The former Spanish champion is a fast finisher and did little to help Contador on the run in so it was no surprise when he took the stage win. Something that Contador would likely have given him had he pulled on the front.
Behind Schleck wasn’t getting much help either, as the two riders who are now dominating this race are being made to work for their win.
Tour de France 2010, stage 12: Bourg-de-peage – Mende 210.5km
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha 4-58-26
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Astana at same time
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 4 secs
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto at 10 secs
5. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
6. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel Euskadi
7. Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank all at same time
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 15 secs
10. Roman Krueziger (Cze) Liquigas at same time
14. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 31sec
General classification after stage 12
1. Andy Shleck (Lux) Saxo Bank 58-42-01
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Astana at 31 secs
3. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel Euskadi at 2-45
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2-58
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto at 3-31
6. Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack at 4-06
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 4-47
8. Joaquin Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha 4-58
9. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Caisse d’Epargne 5-02
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 5-16
14. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 6-44
16. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 7-39
Points classification: Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo
Mountains classificaton: Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Best young rider: Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
Ryder Hesjedal leads the escape group
Joaquin Rodriguez in the winning move, with Alberto Contador right behind him
Rodriguez wins, and Contador gains some time on Schleck
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
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Charly Wegelius pulls out of Tour
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Cavendish in a ‘must win’ situation for Tour’s green jersey
Millar rides through pain barrier to make time cut
Roche alongside Tour’s top men ahead of Pyrenees
Wiggins to aim for Tour de France stage win?
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Bradley Wiggins: Tour rest day conference
Evans faces rough ride in yellow
Riis secures replacement sponsor but Shleck in doubt
Tour de France 2010: rest day review (July 12)
Armstrong’s Tour de France dream ends
Sky’s objective clear ahead of Tour’s high mountains
The Feed Zone (July 10): Tour de France news and views
Tour de France 2010: Stage reports
Stage 11: Cavendish bags third stage win but lead out man kicked out of Tour
Stage 10: Cavendish bags third stage win but his lead-out man is kicked out of race
Stage 10: Paulinho claims narrow stage victory on Bastille day
Stage nine: Casar wins stage as Schleck and Contador go head-to-head
Stage seven: Chavanel wins stage and takes overall as Thomas drops out of Tour’s white
Stage six: Cavendish makes it two as Tour hots up
Stage five: Cavendish wins his first stage of Tour
Stage four: Petacchi wins into Reims
Stage three: Hushovd takes dramatic win; Thomas second on stage and GC
Stage three live coverage: As it happened
Stage two: Comeback man Chavanel takes victory in Spa
Stage one: Petacchi wins in Brussels as bunch left in tatters
Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win
Tour de France 2010: Photos
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Tour 2010 wallpaper
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one gallery
Prologue photo gallery
Tour de France 2010: Videos
Stage 11 video highlights
Stage 10 video highlights
Stage nine video highlights
Stage eight video highlights
Stage seven video highlights
Stage six video highlights
Stage five video highlights
Stage four video highlights
Stage three video highlights
Stage two video highlights
Stage one video highlights
Prologue video highlights
Tour de France 2010: Race guide
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Official start list, with race numbers
Brits at the Tour 2010
Tout team guide
Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins