Stage 12 of the 2010 Tour de France was a deceptively difficult 210km transition stage from Bourg de Peage to Mende.
Although the map had two category two and three category three climbs, the road did seem to be uphill all of the way. The final climb to Mende featured an average gradient of 10.5 percent, one of the steepest in the Tour.
Two early breakaways failed, and were finally replaced by an 18-man group that established a lead of over three minutes. As the pressure went on, an elite group of four riders pulled free. This group consisted of Astana’s Aleksandr Vinokourov, Radioshack’s Andreas Kloden, Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal, and Vasil Kiryienka of Caisse D’Espargne.
Of this bunch, three of the riders were top 20 General Classification riders. Kloden and Vinokourov had both previously finished on the podium of the Tour de France and Hesjedal was only five minutes down on Tour leader Andy Schleck. Only Kiryienka was out of contention at nearly one hour off the lead.
Thor Hushovd, the Cervelo sprint specialist, managed to get himself into the breakaway and picked up enough points on the intermediate sprints to wrest the Green Jersey away from Lampre rider, Alessandro Petacchi.
This stage, however, was always going to be about the final climb to the airstrip above the hamlet of Mende. The final six kilometers tested everyone in the field and destroyed the group of four at the front of the race. First Hesjedal and then Kloden fell out of the group, and finally Kiryienka was left behind by Vinokourov.
The same happened in the peloton. Again, only Schleck and Contador stayed at the front until Contador attacked with just over two kilometers to run. Schleck tried to go with him, but was unable to match the acceleration, taking only Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez with him.
Both riders passed Vinokourov before Rodriguez out-sprinted Contador to secure the stage victory.
The last four kilometers of the stage saw the peloton shatter as the pressure was really applied, although only Ivan Basso fell out of the top ten GC riders, being replaced by Liquigas’ Roman Kreuziger.
Although Contador only clawed back ten seconds on Schleck, it was the way that he attempted and failed to react and catch Contador that is most noteworthy. With the Pyrenees coming up in a few days time, Contador will have a lot of confidence that he can attack Schleck without retaliation.
A Contador victory in the Tour seems almost inevitable, but there is still a long way to go and if the previous stages are anything to go by, anything can happen.
Standings after Stage 12
1. SCHLECK A. 58h 42' 01"
2. CONTADOR A. 00' 31"
3. SANCHEZ S. 02' 45"
4. MENCHOV D. 02' 58"
5. VAN DEN BROECK J. 03' 31"
6. LEIPHEIMER L. 04' 06"
7. GESINK R. 04' 27"
8. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER J. 04' 58"
9. SANCHEZ L. 05' 02"