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Some big names make a break but in the end it's all about the top two...

Defending champion Alberto Contador attacked on the final climb of Stage 12 of the Tour de France in Mende this afternoon as he sought to put race leader Andy Schleck under pressure. Schleck though held on to limit his losses to just 10 seconds to retain the yellow jersey, while Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez nipped past his compatriot on the line to claim the stage win.

Today’s stage finished at the Aerodrome in Mendes, at the top of the short but very sharp ascent where Laurent Jalabert had scored a famous solo victory in 1995 that went down so well with the locals that they named the climb after him.

More recently, Contador had won a stage of Paris Nice here in 2007 and again earlier this year, and a little over 2km from the line, the Astana rider made his move, following an attack from Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Omega Pharma-Lotto, with Schleck unable to respond as the Astana rider headed away up the climb.

As the stage entered the final couple of kilometres It looked as though the Team Saxo Bank rider was about to surrender the yellow jersey to Contador, but somehow he found reserves of strength to limit the time lost to the Astana rider to just 10 seconds.

As it turned out, only Joaquin Rodriquez proved able to stay with Contador, the Katusha rider, ignoring his compatriot’s exhortations to move past him and biding his time patiently before he riding past in the final 100 metres to take the stage victory and deny the Astana rider a hat-trick of wins here.

Approaching the final 20 kilometres of today’s 201.5km stage which had started in Bourg-de-Péage, it had seemed likely that it would result in a breakaway win, with four survivors of an 18-man group looking strong.

That group had included Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, chasing points on the day’s early climbs as he headed back into the polka dot jersey, plus Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam who picked up sprint points as he claimed the green jersey back from Lampre-Farnese Vini’s Alessandro Petacchi.

With 40km left, that group had been reduced to a dozen riders, four of whom made an attack to leave their fellow escapees behind, and what a quartet it was, too – Vasil Kiryienka of Caisse d’Epargne, Andreas Kloden of RadioShack, Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov and Ryder Hejsedal of Garmin-Transitions.

Despite the danger those riders posed, the peloton didn’t react to that attack immediately, with race radio reporting that initially the gap on the motorbike-borne chalkboard had been shown as 2 minutes 30 seconds when in fact TV pictures suggested was more like four minutes.

But with the four escapees posing a threat to the positions of a number of riders in the top 20 of the GC, Cervelo TestTeam, seeking to protect Carlos Sastre’s 16th position, moved up to the front of the peloton to help Schleck’s Team Saxo Bank try and reduce the deficit, and by the time the race entered the closing started heading up the final climb, the four escapees were dropping back one by one.

Only Vinokourov managed to hold on, coming in third behind his team-mate Contador, although it was unclear whether the enigmatic Kazakh rider, back in the Tour de France for the first time after his failed drugs test in 2007, had been acting under team orders when he went on the earlier break – certainly, he has previous when it comes to attacking his team leader, as Jan Ullrich can attest.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after being involved in the controversial incident that saw HTC-Columbia’s Mark Renshaw kicked off the Tour, Garmin-Transitions sprinter Tyler Farrar, who has been struggling with a fractured wrist ever since Stage 2 of this year’s race, abandoned the race with 20k or so of today’s stage still to race.

 Top 20 Tour de France 2010 Stage 12

1.  RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin  TEAM KATUSHA              4h 58' 26"
2.  CONTADOR Alberto          ASTANA                     + 00' 00"
3.  VINOKOUROV Alexandre      ASTANA                     + 00' 04"
4.  VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen     OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO       + 00' 10"
5.  SCHLECK Andy              TEAM SAXO BANK             + 00' 10"
6.  SANCHEZ Samuel            EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI        + 00' 10"
7.  KLÖDEN Andréas            TEAM RADIOSHACK            + 00' 10"
8.  MENCHOV Denis             RABOBANK                   + 00' 10"
9.  GESINK Robert             RABOBANK                   + 00' 15"
10. KREUZIGER Roman           LIQUIGAS-DOIMO             + 00' 15"
11. LEIPHEIMER Levi           TEAM RADIOSHACK            + 00' 17"
12. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben        CAISSE D’EPARGNE           + 00' 31"
13. CUNEGO Damiano            LAMPRE - FARNESE           + 00' 31"
14. WIGGINS Bradley           SKY PRO CYCLING            + 00' 31"
15. EVANS Cadel               BMC RACING TEAM            + 00' 31"
16. BASSO Ivan                LIQUIGAS-DOIMO             + 00' 31"
17. HORNER Christopher        TEAM RADIOSHACK            + 00' 31"
18. SASTRE Carlos             CERVELO TEST TEAM          + 00' 31"
19. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 31"
20. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 31"

Top 20 on General Classification after Stage 12

1.  SCHLECK Andy              TEAM SAXO BANK           58h 42' 01"
2.  CONTADOR Alberto          ASTANA                     + 00' 31"
3.  SANCHEZ Samuel            EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI        + 02' 45"
4.  MENCHOV Denis             RABOBANK                   + 02' 58"
5.  VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen     OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO       + 03' 31"
6.  LEIPHEIMER Levi           TEAM RADIOSHACK            + 04' 06"
7.  GESINK Robert             RABOBANK                   + 04' 27"
8.  RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin  TEM KATUSHA                + 04' 58"
9.  SANCHEZ Luis-Leon         CAISSE D’EPARGNE           + 05' 02"
10. KREUZIGER Roman           LIQUIGAS-DOIMO             + 05' 16"
11. BASSO Ivan                LIQUIGAS-DOIMO             + 05' 30"
12. VINOKOUROV Alexandre      ASTANA                     + 06' 25"
13. HESJEDAL Ryder            GARMIN - TRANSITIONS       + 06' 25"
14. ROCHE Nicolas             AG2R LA MONDIALE           + 06' 44"
15. SASTRE Carlos             CERVELO TEST TEAM          + 07' 34"
16. WIGGINS Bradley           SKY PRO CYCLING            + 07' 39"
17. ROGERS Michael            TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA        + 07' 47"
18. EVANS Cadel               BMC RACING TEAM            + 08' 08"
19. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 08' 24"
20. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 09' 05"

 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.