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Niki Sorensen rides away with stage 12, Nocentini in yellow for one more day

By Heidi Swift - July 17th, 2009

Saxo-Banks’ Niki Sorensen laid it all on the line today. His efforts were rewarded as he crossed the line first in Vittel, 48 seconds of his nearest challenger. Sorensen was part of a seven man break that got away from the main field at 64 kilometers into the race.

He and break-mate Agritubel's Sylvain Calzati attacked with about 20k to go, putting a quick gap on the five men behind.

With 5k to go, Sorensen attacked Calzati, who faded quietly back into the five-man chase behind him.

With a sizable gap established, Sorensen gritted his teeth and powered away for the solo victory, crossing the line with a look of utter disbelief and joy.

The day started out at a blistering pace as the field averaged over 30mph for the first hour of racing, with attacks coming fast and furious from all directions. When the break finally got away, the peloton was already hurting and chasing duties were left to yellow jersey holder Rinaldo Nocentini’s AG2R team (one rider in the break presented a possible threat to Nocentini’s race lead.)

The teams of the other GC contenders were unmotivated to do much work and the sprinter’s teams seemed equally content to save their legs for tomorrow’s challenging mountain stage. The main field finished six minutes behind the breakaway and Rinaldo Nocentini was able to hold onto the yellow race leader’s jersey for another day.

Cavendish extends his lead in the Points Classification

Mark Cavendish has been claiming not to be interested in winning the Points Classification this year, but it appears that a few days in green may have changed his mind – and his strategy.

Cav’ contested the first intermediate sprint (these are “mini” sprints placed throughout the stages where riders can earn more points for the green jersey competition) in today’s stage, besting rival Thor Hushovd to add six more points to his tally. The Englishman then maneuvered his way to the front of the field sprint to secure 8th place on the day, which gave him another 16 critical points. He now leads the race for green with 200 points total, 10 points in front of Hushovd.

Why didn’t Columbia-HTC chase today?

Today was not exactly the stage win that Cavendish has become accustomed to, but his Columbia-HTC team would have had to pull the entire peloton up to the break in order to give him a shot at it. Teams of rival sprinters like Garmin-Slipstream and Cervelo Test Team are reluctant to share the work because they have to think about their obligations to their GC contenders and can’t afford to burn all their matches just to contest a sprint – especially when Cavendish has been stealing all their glory at the line.

With the mountains returning, it made more sense for the Columbia boys to ride tempo today and save their legs for what is sure to be a leg-ripper of a stage tomorrow.

There will be two more chances for stage victories over next nine stages – and one of them will be the final stage into Paris. You can bet that Cavendish and the rest of the squad will have their eyes on both.

Looking ahead to Stage Thirteen

Up, up, and away.

We’re back into the mountains tomorrow and the Columbia-HTC turbo-train will shift gears to help Kim Kirchen and Tony Martin make it over the climbs in good position. They’ll also order one or two domestiques (helper riders) to stay with Cavendish and pull him through the hills because if the Englishman plans to win in the streets of Paris on the Tour’s final day, he’s got to make it there first.

This 200 kilometer stage from Vittel to Colmar will take the peloton up three relatively small (but nonetheless tricky) climbs: the Col de la Schlucht (8.9 km at 4.1 percent), the Col du Platzerwasel (8.7 km at 7.6 percent) and the Col du Firstplan (8.4 km at 5.4 percent).

Climbers with good legs will look to find their way into a break for a possible stage win, but the GC contenders will mark the field and try to make sure that no one important gets away. Race leader Nocentini will have to dig deep to keep his hold on the yellow jersey as Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador may finally be ready to try it on for size.

This stage is a prelude to what will come later in the Alps and while it’s not the most important climbing stage in the Tour this year, it should be fairly unpredictable and dynamic which will make it fun to watch.

Stage 12 Results: Top Five Individuals

1.      SORENSEN Nicki      TEAM SAXO BANK              4h 52' 24"       
2.     LEFEVRE Laurent     BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM     + 00' 48"
3.     PELLIZOTTI Franco     LIQUIGAS                 + 00' 48"
4.     FOTHEN Markus     TEAM MILRAM             + 00' 48"
5.     MARTINEZ Egoi     EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI         + 00' 48"

Top Ten Individual Standings (GC) after Stage 12

1.      NOCENTINI Rinaldo          AG2R-LA MONDIALE      48h 27' 21"     
2.     CONTADOR Alberto         ASTANA             + 00' 06"
3.     ARMSTRONG Lance         ASTANA             + 00' 08"
4.     LEIPHEIMER Levi         ASTANA             + 00' 39"
5.     WIGGINS Bradley         GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM     + 00' 46"
6.     KLÖDEN Andréas         ASTANA             + 00' 54"
7.     MARTIN Tony         TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC     + 01' 00"
8.     VANDE VELDE Christian     GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM     + 01' 24"
9.     SCHLECK Andy         TEAM SAXO BANK         + 01' 49"
10.     NIBALI Vincenzo         LIQUIGAS             + 01' 54"

Columbia-HTC Individual Standings after Stage 12

7.    MARTIN Tony                132.      CAVENDISH Mark
12.      MAXIME Monfort            133.      GRABSCH Bert
19.      KIRCHEN Kim                152.      RENSHAW Mark
29.      HINCAPIE George            153.      EISEL Bernhard
114.      ROGERS Michael



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