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Contador prepares for steep climb at Tour de France

Mark Cavendish kisses the best sprinter's green jersey after the 11th stage of the Tour de France. (Associated Press)
Mark Cavendish kisses the best sprinter's green jersey after the 11th stage of the Tour de France. (Associated Press)

LAVAUR, France – Defending Tour de France Alberto Contador wants to show his rivals he is still the world’s best climber when the race hits the Pyrenees today. It just depends whether his troublesome right knee lets him.

The three-time champion has been bugged by a swelling in his right knee since he crashed on last week’s fifth stage, and he banged the knee again when falling of his bike on stage 9.

With two mammoth climbs up the Col du Tourmalet and an uphill finish to Luz-Ardiden awaiting him on today’s 12th stage, the Spaniard feels quietly confident his body will not let him down.

“My knee is responding well so I’m obviously very happy,” Contador said. “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 on the last climb tomorrow.”

British sprinter Mark Cavendish won Wednesday’s 11th stage with a blistering late attack to clinch his third Tour stage win of the race, and Frenchman Thomas Voeckler kept hold of the race leader’s yellow jersey for another day.

Cadel Evans is the best placed of the main Tour contenders and the Australian veteran leads Andy Schleck by 11 seconds, and Contador by 1 minute, 41 seconds. 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.

Cavendish, meanwhile, nearly lost a shoe in the final stretch of Wednesday’s stage, but kept his cool to beat Andre Greipel of Germany at the line to take the leading sprinter’s green jersey.