On stage twelve of the Tour de France to Mende, defending champion Alberto Contador took revenge for the time he lost on Andy Schleck last Sunday at Morzine-Avoriaz. After a long hot day on winding and hilly roads, the stage finished on the short steep climb towards the runway of Mende, where yellow jersey wearer Schleck could not follow Contador's acceleration. The Luxembourg rider wasn't on Contador's wheel when he attacked and he was unable to close him down. The gap between the two protagonists of the general classification is now down to just 31 seconds.
After the stage, Schleck said that he was expecting to lose some time to his Spanish rival, claiming that the characteristics of the climb suited Contador.
“I'm not disappointed,” said Schleck. “It was really tough and I suffered a lot today. I didn't feel good all day long and knew that the finish would be tough for me. I don't like this climb. I told my team that I would try all I can but that the climb doesn't suit me too much. The climbs in the Pyrenees suit me much better."
"I wasn't surprised that I couldn't stay with Contador on this climb. Bjarne [Riis] warned me today that I shouldn't panic when I wasn't able to stay with Alberto when he attacked because the climb suited him much more. I think I did pretty good by losing only ten seconds.”
“This finish didn't suit me because it's short and steep,” Schleck continued. “You come down after that long downhill. You're riding on the big ring and suddenly it's so steep. You don't have time to adjust to the rhythm. You can't compare it with a mountain pass. Its steep and short character makes it really hard.”
As the final week approaches the tension is mounting, but Schleck is confident that he will be in yellow for some time yet. “I bet he's nervous and I'm of course also nervous because I still have to take time on him. I enjoy it every time that I climb the podium to receive a new yellow jersey and I'm convinced today wasn't my last time on the podium. The team did great work once again even though the riders up front were very strong. I told my team to try and control the race even though the finish didn't suit me too much,” said Schleck.
Contador’s time gain today might well be seen as a prelude for what is yet to come, as Schleck was dropped for the first time on a climb in this Tour and he doesn't seem to be getting any stronger.
Nonetheless, Schleck was bullish as he watched video footage of the final climb. “You see Contador attacks very strong,” said Schleck. “It was a good move because I wasn't immediately on his wheel. I didn't lose much distance at that moment. Eventually the gap was only ten seconds at the finish. That's what I took at Morzine. It's his revenge.”
Schleck also sounded a warning of his own for the remainder of the Tour. “I'm still feeling good. I prepared this Tour to be good in the Pyrenees so I will not be getting weaker. The Pyrenees will be different. Today there were still a lot of riders on the last climb. In the Pyrenees it will be a duel between Contador and me,” Schleck said.