Rodriguez conquers the 'wall' of Mende
Favourite Alberto Contador has launched his first real attack in this year’s race, as the riders climbed one of the shortest but steepest hills. Friday’s stage 12 ended in Mende. Having merely driven up one of the most feared climbs, it is easy to know why the cyclists feel the way they do.
The "wall" as it is called at Mende, is a steep 3km hill climb to the top of the Col de la Croix-Neuve, with certain parts at a gradient of more than 10 per cent.
Three kilometres may not sound much at the end of a 210-kilometre stage, given that it comes at the end of the day, it is always sure to inflict damage on those not prepared.
Several pre-race favourites, including seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong were never in the hunt for honours on Friday. So it was between the current two Tour favourites that the final fight took place.
The last climb was used as a launch pad for the first true attack this year by Spain’s Alberto Contador.
He was prompted into action by an impressive surge in pace by fellow Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez riding for the Katusha team, and the pair raced past the remnants of an escape group and into the lead.
The teaming worked well as both had different objectives. Contador, who is currently second in this year’s Tour was chasing a time gain, while Rodriguez was seeking his first stage win. Both were happy with the outcome.
Joaquim Rodriguez’s has scored his first-ever stage win in his first-ever Tour, and the victory was also the first for Rodriguez’s Katusha team which can celebrate three wins in one.
As for Contador, he managed to gain 10 seconds in his quest to take the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
For the moment however, that yellow jersey remains on the shoulders of Andy Schlek of Luxembourg who is now only 31 seconds ahead of Contador.
Schlek admitted after Friday’s stage that he had had a bad day, was tired and didn’t like the final hill climb to Mende, so had only done his best to maintain his overall lead.
Contador had an advantage over Schlek, having already experienced the climb twice in the Paris-Nice races of 2007 and 2010.
Friday also saw another change of shoulders for the green jersey for best sprinter, which has been reclaimed by Norway’s Thor Hushovd, only a day after he lost it to Alessandro Pettachi of Italy.
Stage 12 was once again marked by the heat, with more tarmac melting in the hot sun. It took us to the southern part of the Massif Central, past lots of apricot trees and the region where Côtes du Rhone wine is made.
On Saturday, the Tour begins its descent down towards the Pyrenees mountain stages with a 196-kilometre run between Rodez and Revel.
There will be no mountain climbs on the menu in stage 13, which being a mainly flat stage will give the sprinters maybe one of their final chances to obtain a stage win ahead of four days of mountain climbs in the Pyrenees.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe