Samuel Sanchez claims the victory of Stage 12
Team Leopard-Trek decided that they were going to test the resolve and fitness of the peloton on first day that the 2011 Tour de France visited the high mountains.
It didn't really work as expected.
Stage 12 took the riders from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden over two very big climbs before a mountain-top finish. It was always going to have a massive impact on the impact, but it was expected that it might expose any weaknesses in the general classification contenders.
And there wasn’t any.
The bunch was thinned out significantly over the Col du Tourmalet and was almost thinned out even more on the descent of the Col. As brutal as that climb is, the descent is even more terrifying down switch-back roads with massive drops.
Geraint Thomas of Team Sky had a couple of close looks at the drops as his rear wheel locked, forcing him to bail out lest he go over the edge.
The descent also claimed a number of scalps from the main bunch in another crash on one of the perilous bends. Most notably, it claimed Radio Shack’s last remaining hope in Andrea Kloden in the fall and effectively put paid to their 2011 Tour Campaign.
This stage, however, was always going to be about that final, unclassified climb.
Can Contador come back from here?
Having burned out their team on the first two climbs, Leopard-Trek placed a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Jens Voigt to maintain the pressure on the final climb, but it wasn’t long before he too was shaken loose.
Surprisingly, Liquigas riders Ivan Basso and Sylvester Szmyd came forward and really turned up the pace thinning out the remaining bunch until only the cream of the crop remained.
As is customary on these stages, the real battle didn’t begin until the final five kilometers. It started with a one-two punch by the Schleck brothers.
First Andy accelerated, drawing an immediate response from Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Basso and then it was immediately followed by a counter-puch from Frank Schleck.
This acceleration was also caught as were the next few, until Frank made what ended up being the decisive move on the bunch.
It was almost as if Frank had snuck away without being seen. The was absolutely no reaction from any of the other riders and he went on to establish 20-second gap on Evans, jumping to second place overall in the GC standings.
There were two real items of interest to come out of today’s stage.
Firstly, the form of Thomas Voeckler and his absolute determination to retain the yellow jersey and ensure that it was a Frenchman wearing it on Bastille Day. No one believes that he will keep it for too long, but it was a courageous and unexpected effort nonetheless.
The other real surprise was the form of Contador.
There was none of the arrogant swagger that has defined his riding in the last three Tours that he has competed in (he did take part in 2008).
Contador is a significant amount of time behind his main opposition and he was widely expected to make a move to recover some of that time today. Not only did he not attack at any stage, he actually gave up a further 13 seconds to Evans and Andy Schleck.
It is difficult to see Contador recovering from here. Whether it is the consequences of his falls and injured knee, or a fatigue issue coming out of his Giro d’Italia campaign is unclear, but his rivals will have taken great comfort from his inability to counter the moves of the others.
So as we see Contador slip from contention, Ivan Basso has stepped forward to claim a spot amongst the contenders.
At over a minute behind Evans and the Schlecks, it’s hard to imagine that Basso will seriously challenge for the yellow jersey, but there isn’t much in this race that is panning out as expected.
Tomorrow see the riders face more climbs, although with the finish of the last climb coming some 40 kilometres from the finish, it’s unlikely that anything definitive will happen, but then again...