Contador takes 10 seconds off race leader Schleck

MENDE, France, (Reuters) – Defending champion  Alberto Contador warned Tour de France race leader Andy Schleck  what to expect in the Pyrenees stages with a blistering attack  on one of his favourite climbs in Mende yesterday.

Contador was beaten on the finish line of the 12th stage by  fellow Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez but his move in the last two  kilometres allowed him to take 10 seconds off Schleck, whom he  now trails by 31 seconds in the overall standings.

Contador’s right-hand man Alexandre Vinokourov, who went  early in a breakaway, took third and forced his Astana team  mate’s rivals to chase behind him all day.

Seven-times champion Lance Armstrong, who all but lost the  race last Sunday following a crash, was dropped in the final  ascent, crossing the line in 57th, 3:35 off the pace.

The 38-year-old American, riding his last Tour, lies 32nd in  the overall standings, 21:16 behind Schleck.

“That was one helluva hard day,” Armstrong wrote on Twitter.

There had been suggestions since the start of the Tour, and  especially in the Alps, that Contador, the 2007 and 2009  champion, might have lost his edge in the climbs.

He set the record straight on a climb at the top of which he  won Paris-Nice stages in 2007 and this year.

“It’s true that I love this climb. Today I owed it to myself  and to the race to attack. It was an important day for me,”  Contador told reporters.

“I attacked late when I sensed that Andy was faltering a  little. It’s always good to take some time back even though I  would have like to take more than 10 seconds,” he added.

SMALL DISAPPOINTMENT

Luxembourg’s Schleck conceded Contador’s move had been “very  intelligent”, but said it had not affected his morale.

“Ten seconds is exactly the time I took off him in the stage  to Morzine. It’s a sort of revenge,” the 25-year-old said.

“I feel well and the race will be decided between us in the  Pyrenees,” he added.

There was a small disappointment for Contador as the stage  win eluded him and Vinokourov but his Kazakh team captain vowed  to try again.

“We played it smart in the finale. Too bad we did not win.  We finish two and three but this gives us confidence ahead of  the Pyrenees,” Vinokourov said.

Two places on the podium confirmed Contador had a team able  to assist him in the intimidating Pyrenees, which the peloton  will tackle from Sunday for four stages.

Only Rodriguez, with whom Contador joined forces in the  finale, deprived him of a third victory on the hill bearing the  name of Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, winner of a Tour stage here  in 1995.

Katusha rider Rodriguez amply deserved his first Tour stage  win.

“I knew I would be able to react to Alberto if he attacked.  I executed my plan to perfection,” he said.

At 31 and despite 10 years in the professional ranks, a  stage win in the Spanish Vuelta and a bronze medal at the world  championships, Rodriguez is taking part in his first Tour.

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