Alberto Contador may have finished second in Stage 12, but the Astana captain was the clear winner at the Tour today. Contador lost a two-man sprint to fellow Spaniard Juaquin Rodriguez but gained 10 seconds over yellow-jersey Andy Schleck and even more time over podium hopefuls like Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer, and Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Schleck was unable to respond as Contador and Rodriguez shot off the front of the peloton just over a mile from the finish. Though he lost only 10 seconds and retained the yellow jersey, Schleck’s inability to respond was a psychological blow ahead of this weekend’s battle in the Pyrenees.
Contador now trails Schleck by just 31 seconds in the overall, with Spaniard Samuel Sanchez of Team Euskaltel-Euskadi third, at 2:45; Rabobank’s Russian captain Menchov fourth, at 2:58; and Belgian Van Den Broek fifth, at 3:31. RadioShack’s Leipheimer, who lost 17 seconds to Contador today, remains the highest-placed American, in sixth place, 4:06 behind Schleck. (Full results.)
Though it was listed as a flat day, Stage 12 actually saw a fair bit of climbing, including a short but punchy climb right at the end of the 130-mile run into the town of Mende. The second climb of the day saw 18 riders go off the front, including Contador’s dangerous teammate Alexander Vinokourov.
“Vino” stayed at the front for the rest of the day as the pace saw his group grow smaller and smaller. With the lead group down to four, he upped the pace until he was finally riding alone and headed toward what looked like the stage win. But when Rodriguez attacked near the finish, Contador took the opportunity to bridge up to—and fly past—his Astana teammate and drive the pace to the finish.
Rodriguez followed Contador’s wheel to the finish, then came around with just a few meters left for the stage win. But by then Contador had already sent his message: He’s still the man to beat in the Tour de France.