Spanish rider takes stage victory after fireworks on Jalabert's climb see defending champion attack yellow jersey
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) won the twelfth stage of the Tour de France between Bourg-de-Péage and Mende as he escaped on the steep climb to the aerodrome with second place overall Alberto Contador (Astana). Rodriguez managed to outsprint Contador, who was more interested in taking as much time as possible on those riders behind him. Contador’s teammate Alexandre Vinokourov, having been part of the stage’s long breakaway, held on to take third place.
A long, hot breakaway almost made it, but was forced to succumb to the pressure of attacks among the overall race leaders.
After several attempts a large group gets clear
The first riders to make it clear were Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) and Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne). The presence of the Canadian, who currently sits in 12th place overall 5’42” behind yellow jersey Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) meant that they were not allowed to get far away. The trio was quickly reeled abck in by the peloton, but not before they took the points at the top of the 3rd category Côte de Saint-Barthélémy-le-Plain, after 31km.
There was another attempted break from Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), but it was pulled back at the 50km mark. Over the top of the 3rd category Col des Nonières, after 59km, a group of 18 riders got clear.
The group consisted of: Hesjedal again, Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Andreas Klöden (RadioShack), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Mario Aerts (OmegaPharma-Lotto), Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Columbia), Mauro Santambrogio (BMC Racing), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Vasil Kiryienka and Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne), Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouyges Telecom), Christophe Kern, Amaël Moinard and Rémi Pauriol (all Cofidis), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Gregor Bole (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Rafael Valls (Footon-Servetto).
The presence of Hesjedal, and especially Vinokourov, in the group forced Saxo Bank to lead the peloton. The Danish team allowed the gap to get no larger than around 2 minutes, where it stayed for some time.
The battles for the jerseys continue out on the road
Hushovd had placed himself in the group to take points in the intermediate sprints in an effort to take back the green jersey from Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini). Petacchi had put Bole in the break to mark Hushovd though; the Slovenian managed to beat the Norwegian champion to the line in Mariac but the 4 points drew Hushovd level on points with Petacchi.
There were also changes in the polka-dot mountains classification, with Charteau managing to make the group. Jersey wearer Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) was involved in a crash with British champion Gerait Thomas (Team Sky) and so missed the attack. Charteau picked up a number of points on the climbs, moving ahead of Pineau once more.
Hushovd beat Bole to the line on the second sprint in Langogne, with 52km to go, claiming back the lead in the green jersey competition over Petacchi by 6 points. A few kilometres later the Norwegian sat up and waited for the peloton; mission accomplished.
Eighteen becomes four as the stage approaches its climax
At just under 50km to go an acceleration from Klöden was followed by Vinokourov, Kiryienka and Hesjedal. The rest of the breakaway was unable to follow and the gap to the Saxo Bank led peloton began to open further; with 45km to go it had opened up to 3’27”, putting Hesjedal into a virtual third place overall.
Inside the final 40km, with the lead approaching 4 minutes, the Cervélo TestTeam and the Liquigas-Doimo team of Carlos Sastre and Ivan Basso came forward to help the Saxo Bank chase. The lead began to gradually reduce, but the four in front were working hard together and resisting.
With 25km to go the lead was still just over 3 minutes, with the rest of the breakaway between the peloton and the break. Jurgen Van Den Broeck sent his OmegaPharma-Lotto teammates forward to assist the chase, protecting his fifth place overall from both Hesjedal and Vinokourov.
By the 20km to go mark, the gap had fallen to 2’25”, and with 15km to go it was reduced to just 1’46”.
At the 10km to go banner the remainder of the breakaway, now numbering 12 riders, were 37 seconds behind the leading quartet, while the peloton was just 1’17” behind. The Lampre-Farnese Vini team was also present at the front by now, and on the approach to the final climb of the Côte de la Croix-Neuve “Montée Laurent Jalabert” the overall contenders began to move forward.
As the breakaway climbed out of the town of Mende with just 5km to go, Hesjedal found himself unable to match the pace of the others and was dropped. Soon after Klöden too found it too tough and was forced to watch Vinokourov and Kiryienka ride away together.
With the peloton just 37 seconds behind, led by green jersey Petacchi in the green jersey as he brought Damiano Cunego to the front, John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) attacked. The cyclocross specialist managed to get a few metres ahead but with the favourites moving forward he was unable to get far.
Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) looked uncomfortable as the road steepened, and drifted backwards in the peloton.
With 3.1km to go Vinokourov attacked and left Kiryienka behind, setting off on the way to the finish; the Kazakh still held a lead of 39 seconds over the peloton.
The action starts on Jalabert’s mountain
On the steepest part of the climb an attack from Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) was seized upon by Contador and the two Spanish riders pulled away from the rest. Schleck tried to chase but was unable to go with them. The duo caught up with Vinokourov, who seemed to be struggling, but the Kazakh lifted his pace one last time to pace his leader as much as he could.
Vinokourov could not stay with the other two for long and at the top of the climb, with 2km to go, they had a lead of 15 seconds over the rest. As they passed under the flamme rouge with 1km to go though, it had been reduced to 11 seconds but there was no way they were going to be caught.
Although Contador was concerned with taking as much time out of the yellow jersey, and the other favourites, as possible but also wanted the stage victory. He led into the final few hundred metres with Rodriguez on his wheel, trying to get the Katusha rider to come past him. Once Rodriguez launched his sprint though, Contador was unable to come past him and had to content himself with his time gain.
Schleck, in a small group with Van Den Broeck, Klöden, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), chased all the way to the finish to come in 10 seconds down. The Luxemburger keeps his race lead, but his advantage over the Spanish defending champion is reduced to 31 seconds.
Robert Gesink (Rababank) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) followed in at 15 seconds, with Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) 2 seconds behind them. A group containing most of the other contenders, including Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Basso, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Carlos Sastre, finished 31 seconds back.
Armstrong crossed the line in a group in 57th place, losing a further 3’35”.
Result stage 12 1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Astana
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) team Astana @ 4s
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto @ 10s
5. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
6. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
7. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 15s
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo
Standings after stage 12 1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Astana @ 31s
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2’45”
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank @ 2’58”
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto @ 3’31”