Joaquin Rodriguez Edges Alberto Contador in Stage 12 of 2010 Tour de France

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07/16/2010| 0 comments
by AP, with additional commentary by
Photo copyright Fotoreporter Sirotti.
Photo copyright Fotoreporter Sirotti.

Joaquin Rodriguez Edges Alberto Contador in Stage 12 of 2010 Tour de France

Joaquin Rodriguez wins stage 12 ahead of Alberto Contador; Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) now has an overall 2010 Tour de France lead of 00:31 over Alberto Contador (Team Astana).

Joaquin Rodriguez wins stage 12 ahead of Alberto Contador; Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) now has an overall 2010 Tour de France lead of 00:31 over Alberto Contador (Team Astana).

Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain won a hilly 12th stage of the 2010 Tour de France on Friday, leading a two-man sprint finish with Alberto Contador - who gained 10 precious seconds in the title quest.

Contador, the defending champion, and Rodriguez burst out of the pack in a steep final climb, dusting race leader Andy Schleck and the rest of the pack and overtaking several breakaway riders.

Rodriguez, a 10-year veteran on the Katusha team riding in his first Tour, out-sprinted Contador in the last few hundred meters of the 210.5-kilometer (131-mile) course from Bourg-de-Peage to Mende.

Rodriguez stretched out his arms, looked back and smiled as he nosed Contador at the line - clocking 4 hours, 58 minutes, 26 seconds. Contador's Astana teammate Alexandre Vinokourov was third, 4 seconds back.

"I knew to anticipate, and I knew it was going to be difficult," said Rodriguez, who won the 2010 Volta of Catalunya in April. "I did it perfectly. I knew I'd be able to resist Alberto."

Rodriguez said he had ridden well in the Tours of Italy and Spain in the past, but "I just needed to win in the best race in the world" - referring to the Tour de France.

Rodriguez added that "I'm very happy, my goal was to win a stage in my first Tour de France and now I took it. My shape is fantastic. I did the climb without suffering and kept the rhythm on the flat, so I had a lot of power for the final climb. I knew that I had to start before of Contador to beat him in the sprint and I did so. Now I want to finish as good as possible in the general classification. I want to thank my teammates and also Andrei Tchmil for the confidence that he gave me."

Contador finished 10 seconds ahead of Schleck, who was fifth, and reduced his deficit to the Saxo Bank team leader from Luxembourg to 31 seconds. Samuel Sanchez of Spain was third overall, 2:45 back, after crossing alongside Schleck in sixth place.

The finish was destined for drama. In the final kilometers, the pack scaled the La Croix Neuve pass - featuring nearly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) at an average gradient of more than 10 percent.

Vinokourov and three other breakaway riders were the first at the foot of the climb. At first he and Belarus rider Vasili Kiryienka slugged it out alone and the Kazakh star rode out alone.

But with fewer than 2 kilometers to go, Contador caught Schleck off-guard by racing out wide in the climb and mustering a burst of speed. As the Spaniard rose up out of his saddle, his bike wagging side to side, Schleck couldn't or wouldn't lay chase -- and kept seated in a steady rhythm.

The two Spaniards then overtook Vinokourov, who is riding in his first Tour after serving out a doping ban. The Kazakh rider was kicked out of the 2007 Tour for blood doping.

Schleck sensed he wouldn't keep up with Contador.

"I knew this was going to be a really tough climb," he said of La Croix Neuve. "I don't like this climb, it doesn't fit me. It's short and steep and you have to be explosive -- not right for the kind of rider that I am.

"I'm happy I lost only 10 seconds in the end," said Schleck. "I was not so surprised I couldn't stay with him in this climb."

Contador, too, thought he would have gained more time.

"I like this climb a lot. I felt good. I attacked too late, and I didn't know what state Andy was in," he said. "I was able to get a few seconds, it's good -- it shows I'm in form.

"It's always good to reduce the deficit, but it would've been better to get more than 10 seconds."

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who has ruled himself out of contention in his final Tour, lost time to the leader for a third straight day - crossing in 57th place, 3:35 back of Rodriguez. He's 32nd overall, 21:16 behind Schleck. Lance Armstrong may deliberately be losing time in order for the main contenders to allow him to escape in a major breakaway in a future stage in an attempt to take a beautiful and memorable stage win in his final Tour de France.

In admirable fashion Cervelo TestTeam's Norwegian God of Thunder took part in one of today's breakaways and managed to conquer enough sprint points in intermediate sprints to regain the lead in the sprinter competition and take back the green sprinter jersey.

"This is the Tour de France - you must fight every day. I felt very good in the morning. I was a little angry yesterday after losing the green jersey and I wanted to try something today. It's very important to take back the green jersey. I won it last year because I was the most consistent rider and I am showing that again. My sprint isn't going great, but I hope to be stronger as the race continues," Hushovd said.

Hushovd added "I think Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) is my most dangerous rival right now for the green jersey. He's very strong in the sprints right now. The Pyrénées will be very important. There could be some points to be taken even in the mountain stages. This green jersey battle will not be decided until the final day."

Tour organizers said U.S. sprint specialist Tyler Farrar of the Garmin-Transitions team dropped out of the race during Friday's stage. Farrar had been riding with a broken left wrist from one of numerous crashes on rain-slicked roads in Stage 2.

"I am devastated to leave the Tour and my teammates," Tyler Farrar told Farrar added "You never want to leave any race but especially the Tour. It's the event we work for all year. I've been suffering since my crash on Stage 2 and today, the pain was just too much. I couldn't push through. I wanted to get to Paris more than anything. Instead, I'll be watching my teammates from home. That's not where I want to be. But I know they'll continue to make us proud, and I'll be cheering louder than anyone. I want to thank them again now for everything they've done for me."

Saturday's 13th stage of the 2010 Tour de France takes riders along 196 kilometers from Rodez to Revel, featuring five low-level climbs. Sunday marks the race entree into the Pyrenees - where riders will spend four punishing stages.

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