LAVAUR, France - Alberto Contador wants to show he is still the world's best climber when the Tour de France race hits the Pyrenees today. It just depends whether his troublesome right knee lets him.
The three-time winner has been bugged by a swelling in his right knee since he crashed on last week's fifth stage, and he banged the same knee again when falling off his bike on stage 9 Sunday.
With two mammoth climbs up the Col du Tourmalet and an uphill finish to Luz-Ardiden awaiting him in the 12th stage, the Spaniard feels quietly confident his body will not let him down. It had better not, otherwise Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, his main Tour rivals, will not hesitate to try to knock him out of contention.
Cruel, but that's the Tour. After all, Contador did not wait around when Schleck's chain came off last year.
"My knee is responding well so I'm obviously very happy," Contador said after Wednesday's 11th stage. "But keep in mind that I didn't climb the Tourmalet today. I have to see how it responds and on that basis I will make a decision how to do the race. …"
British sprinter Mark Cavendish won Wednesday's stage with a blistering late attack to clinch his third stage win, and Frenchman Thomas Voeckler kept hold of the race leader's yellow jersey for another day.
Evans is the best placed of the main contenders and the Australian veteran currently leads Schleck by 11 seconds overall, and Contador by 1 minute 41 seconds. Schleck, who lost last year's Tour to Contador by just 39 seconds, now leads him by 1:30.
Contador's priority Wednesday was more about staying on his saddle and letting the rain massage his sore knee on a 104.1-mile, flat and rainy route from Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur.
"The knee did not bother me at any time today," a relieved Contador said. "The rain was actually soothing my knee today as it almost felt like ice."
Contador, however, knows there is nothing soothing about the Pyrenees.
Stage 12 is a 131.1-mile trek from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden and has three significant climbs which sprinters dread and climbers like Contador love.
First up is a category 1 climb up La Hourquette d'Ancizan, followed by the biggest ascent of the day - 17.1 kilometers up Tourmalet at an average gradient of 7.3 percent. Exhausted riders then have an uphill finish to Luz-Ardiden.
"The first mountain stage always gives a pretty good indicator of who's a real contender for Paris," Evans said. "Someone has a bad day, someone has an extraordinarily good day. But it always gives some degree of an indicator."
• What: Tour de France, Stage 12
• Where: Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden
• When: 3:30 a.m., Versus