Beyond the Peloton

July 16, 2010 12:13 PM

Contador Sends a Message

Alberto Contador finished second in Stage 12, but he was the winner in a stage as tension-riven as advertised.

Up the savage final climb at over 10% gradient, the GC leaders seemed content to let Alexandre Vinokuorov (our pick to win the stage) to get away with his breakaway. Then Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez decided to launch an attack, and this is when Contador spotted a weakness.

t1larg.jpgThe defending champ took off after Rodriguez, and, as he noticed that Andy Schleck couldn't keep up with the acceleration, Contador stepped up the pace. The duo soon caught up with Vino, Contador's teammate, and blew right by him. Schleck did well to recover and limit the loss to 10 seconds.

Contador, in fact, could've won by more if he didn't momentarily get caught up in a cat-and-mouse game with Rodriguez trying to win the stage. But what's more important to Contador is the psychological edge he gained on Schleck. In effect, "I can drop you."

Schleck had looked the better climber so far on the Tour, dropping Contador to win Stage 8 and gaining 10 seconds. Contador now has those 10 seconds back and a clear advantage in the time trial in his pocket, as the four mountain stages in the Pyrenees loom.

Behind the Contador-Schleck title chase, the race for the final podium spot also promises to be intriguing and wide open. Anyone currently in the top 20 as of the standings today all still have a chance. American Levi Leipheimer, who did well to finish 17 seconds behind Contador, is best positioned if he can keep up in the Pyrenees. He's by far the best time trialist among the group racing for third, and he's currently sixth, 1:21 behind Spain's Sammy Sanchez, who's currently in third.

Stage 13 Preview (Rodez to Revel)

The last day before four days in the Pyrenees is no picnic, either. There are five climbs, none over Cat. 3, but unappetizing enough that the sprinters probably will not be too inclined to chase back a breakaway. The GC leaders will also be content to sit back to let somebody far down the standings to grab some glory.

Prediction: Thor Hushovd. It really could be anybody because it's almost certain that a breakaway will succeed. But look out for the sneaky Hushovd. He gained 10 points and took back the green jersey by going out early and grabbing two intermediate sprints in Stage 12. For the GC contenders, it will be a day to save their energy before the savage days in the mountains. Schleck's yellow will be safe for one more day.

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