Today’s 173.5km stage from Maurs to Mende skirted the Massif Central for most of the day, only at the end facing some difficult hills. And what a finish it was.
A seven-man break featuring JÃ©rÃ´me Pineau (Quickstep) held the front until the 3rd-cat climb 8km from the end; but they quickly melted back into the Astana-fronted peloton.
Then the bunch hit the final climb on the last 3km. It averaged 10% overall, yet a middle section of tortuously steep hairpins sorted the men from the boys – and notably saw Peter Sagan (Liquigas), yesterday’s stage winner, as well as the King of the Mountains, Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), quickly slip from front to back.
Le Mevel (FranÃ§aise des Jeux) had a little dig, but then Contador simply floated off, as is his wont, dancing away from the pack; and, although not quite as imperious as usual – Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) gave a good chase – he was never in any danger of being caught.
Contador took first – and, thanks to the bonus seconds, the yellow jersey. Valverde came in some 10 seconds behind, closely followed by Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel). Jens Voigt, who was potentially riding for the biggest result of his career, couldn’t hold with them and finished some 40 seconds back.
1. Alberto Contador (AST)
2. Alejandro Valverde (GCE) +24″
3. Roman Kreuziger (LIQ)
4. Luis LÃ©on Sanchez (GCE)
5. Samuel Sanchez (EUS)
6. Jens Voigt (SAX)
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (KAT)
8. Peter Sagan (LIQ)
CervÃ©lo’s Heinrich Haussler abandoned.