Tour de France Stage 12: Joaquin Rodriguez Wins, Alberto Contador Gains

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Tour de France Stage 12: Joaquin Rodriguez Wins, Alberto Contador Gains

Stage 12 of the 97th Tour de France did nothing to dissuade the popular opinion that the event has become a two-man race.

Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador remained atop the overall leaderboard, at first and second respectively, after Friday's 210-kilometer, hilly trek from Bourg-de-Peage to Mende.

The stage featured five climbs and the vicious attack from the Spaniard most had expected would come this week.

Contador finished second behind fellow countryman and stage winner Joaquin Rodriguez, and picked up 10 seconds on his rival.

He now sits just 31 seconds behind Schleck. Rodriguez, riding for Team Katusha, sprinted away from the pack with Contador on the final climb and never looked back. He raised his arms in triumph when he edged Team Astana's star at the finish line.

An early 18-man breakaway featuring Garmin-Transitions' Ryder Hesjedal split up when it counted most. Rodriguez, a 10-year cycling veteran and first-time Tour competitor, took advantage of what seemed like a timely second wind and a move from Contador that prevented his exhausted Astana teammate Alexandre Vinokourov from crossing the line first.

Vinokourov settled for third. Astana's manager told Reuters that no friction existed between the two riders. Contador told reporters he was "embarrassed." The Spaniard champion and Lance Armstrong denied bad blood for much of last year's race until each cyclist could no longer hide the seething disdain.

How this situation will play out is anyone's guess.

Tour enthusiasts who wanted fireworks got them in the Alps. The ascent into the mountains pushed Schleck and Contador to the front of the pack.

Armstrong, the seven-time winner, collapsed in spectacular fashion during Stage Eight, in which he crashed three times. The American icon fell to 32nd place on Friday, 21 minutes behind the overall leader.

A fractured elbow may have destroyed Cadel Evans' podium hopes. Supposed yellow jersey contender Ivan Basso has struggled to keep pace.

The previous stage did not feature a Beavis. There was, however, an unmistakable Butthead who still commanded unfortunate attention after his Thursday expulsion from the Tour.

Mark Cavendish's HTC-Columbia teammate Mark Renshaw was disqualified for head—butting—yes head-butting!—New Zealander Julian Dean during the final sprint of Stage 11.

The event's organizers could not make this stuff up if they tried.

Who could forget the cobblestone carnage from Stage Three?

Schleck, even after a poor showing that allowed Contador to strike, still wears yellow.

Fireworks? The real show begins Sunday in the Pyrenees.

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