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Tour de France: Sprinters move aside, it's time for the mountain stages

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For now, Contador’s focus is on his fellow yellow jersey contenders – Australian Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers, Andy and Fränk, among other riders.

After losing valuable time in a crash on the race’s first stage, Contador is currently 1 minute and 31 seconds behind the third-placed Evans, but is optimistic he can make the time deficit up.

“We can’t make any big conclusions from what’s happened so far,” he said. “We haven’t had an important climb to test everyone’s conditioning.”

Thomas Voeckler, the plucky Frenchman currently leading the race, isn’t considered to be an adversary.

“It will be difficult for me to defend the jersey tomorrow,” Voeckler said after Wednesday’s stage. “The general classification hopefuls will attack early in the stage.”

Thursday’s Stage 12, which ends at the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden, will also be a chance for Contador to quell concerns about a right knee injury he suffered during a solo spill on Sunday. It was his fifth crash of the race.

A series of crashes

Indeed, this year’s Tour has been marked by crashes. Some have been small pileups, others severe enough to force riders out of the race.

Toward the end of last Friday’s Stage 7, American Christopher Horner of RadioShack broke his nose and sustained a concussion during a spill. He finished the stage, but abandoned the Tour that night.

"Unfortunately, the race is being decided by crashes,” Horner’s compatriot and teammate Levi Leipheimer said last week. “Of course, they’re part of the sport, but I don't think it's right to have [them] to this degree.”

On Sunday’s Stage 9, four riders withdrew after crashing on a slick descent. Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov, unable to walk after suffering an injury, had to be pulled out of a ravine by teammates.

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