And that's me finished for the day too - limping over the line at the top of the Tourmalet like an exhausted rider in the grupetto. Thanks for keeping me company over what was a dramatic day, even if Andy Schleck did not produce the fireworks that many of you wanted or expected. Alberto Contador will be looking to cement his third Tour win in Saturday's time trial but, before then, join me tomorrow for stage 18... A flat 198km that takes the race from Salies de Bearn to Bordeaux. Look forward to seeing you then.
From Dave in Halifax, via text:
"This stage shows that Contador could have won the Tour without taking advantage of Shleck's mechanical on Monday. Unless the cycling gods have some kind of gremlin in store for the Spaniard during Saturday's time trial (which would be somewhat ironic)."
A special mention for Ireland's Nicolas Roche, who came in 12th today and is now 15th overall.
Here's the top three for today's stage too.
1. Andy Schleck (Lux/Saxo Bank) (5hrs 03mins 29s)
2. Alberto Contador Sp/Astana(same time)
3. Joaquim Rodriguez Sp/Katusha (@ 1min 17sec)
1659: Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who is closing in on a third triumph in the past four years:
"It is not over yet but I worked very hard and the feeling couldn't be better - I am really happy."
1655: Andy Schleck, who before today's stage said the man wearing yellow tonight would be the man wearing yellow at the end of the Tour in Paris on Sunday:
"I'm going to do a pretty fast time trial on Saturday, I am in pretty good condition. I don't want to sound arrogant but Alberto and I are both at a level above the others. The battle is between him and me. He is a better time-trialist but the gap is only eight seconds and I won't give up. Anything is possible."
So, the top three remain in the same order, but Andy Schleck is now two minutes and 24 seconds clear of Sam Sanchez. Enough for him to be sure of second spot? We shall see...
1. Alberto Contador (83hrs 32mins 39s)
2. Andy Schleck @ 8sec
3. Sam Sanchez @ 3min 32sec
By the way, Sam Sanchez (who suffered a heavy fall at the start of the stage) put another eight seconds on Denis Menchov in the battle for third place, and is now 21 seconds ahead.
There are still dozens of riders making their way up to the top of Tourmalet, as the dust settles on a thrilling stage. The Tour is not quite in the bag for Alberto Contador yet, either, because he only has an eight second lead on Andy Schleck ahead of Saturday's individual time trial. The Spaniard is faster and will be hot favourite to extend his advantage but, as we've seen in this year's race, things don't always work out as you expect them to...
From Adam in London, via text:
"Fair play to Schleck he deserved that. Can't believe how close it was, what a finish."
Schleck embraced Contador after they reached the finish, and they hugged again after climbing off their bikes. That was a monumental effort by both men, Schleck for keeping that pace and Contador for staying with him, but it is the Spaniard who has most to smile about - he will expect to be wearing yellow in Paris on Sunday.
Andy Schleck is first to emerge from the mist and cross the line. He raises his arm in celebration, but it's a hollow one. Alberto Contador is right behind him and keeps his eight second lead in the general classification.
The finish line would be in sight, but for the thick cloud. Schleck is giving everything but he cannot shake Contador, and has virtually dragged him up this huge hill.
The top of Tourmalet is absolutely packed with fans - there is barely any room for these two to get through. Now just 500m to go and I cannot see Andy Schleck losing Contador now...
Alberto Contador looks to have composed himself again... time for one last attack? We are into the last 1km, and Andy Schleck is continuing to set a hot pace, without ever looking like losing his great rival.
Some of the fans up at the top of Tourmalet are not wearing an awful lot, in fact some of them are not wearing anything at all. Back with the race and Schleck hangs back to shout at Contador again... one of these men is going to crack, surely? We are into the final 2km and they are still locked together.
Andy Schleck winds it up again, gradually upping the pace.... Alberto Contador looks very tired but he stays with him, and Schleck just cannot shake him.
The Spaniard bursts clear but Andy Schleck is quickly back with him.... and now they are snarling at each other again. Just 3km to go.
Alberto Contador attacks!
Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador continue to stare each other out, ignoring the crowds on either side of the road. Shleck appears to be shouting at his rival, but I can't be sure because of the mist and the sound of the crowds, and he might just be grimacing in his direction. We are in the last 4km.
Only 5km to go now, and the front two are one minute and 15 seconds clear. Normally I'd be looking at the expressions of Contador and Schleck, to see how much they are suffering, but the mist means it is hard to make out their faces.
Andy Schleck takes a long look over his shoulder and studies Alberto Contador, who remains stuck to his back wheel, looking for a sign of weakness. Any sign of weakness. Contador has taken off his sunglasses - this cloud is so thick that he could probably hardly see with them on. They are still all alone on the road, apart from the thousands of fans who appear out of the mist as the riders charge up this mountain.
From BBC Sport's Alex Murray on 606:
"Contador just has to hang tough on Schleck's wheel now. This is proper racing, shoulder-to-shoulder. Will this be a defining moment, a defining image, like Anquetil and Poulidor on Puy-de-Dome?"
Right then. Just 7km to go and Schleck and Contador are now 50 seconds clear of any other rider. There is thick cloud at the top of Tourmalet but the outcome of this year's Tour de France is about to get a lot clearer...
Down the hill, Denis Menchov has been caught by Sam Sanchez - that is the battle for third place by the way. Schleck is out of his saddle and working hard but still cannot shake Contador, who is still on his back wheel.
No sign of Denis Menchov, who is somewhere in the mountain mist below Contador and Schleck. Those two are about to motor past Alexandr Kolobnev, the last survivor of the seven riders who escaped right at the start of this 174km stage. Just 8.5km to go...
Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are together, just the two of them, on the slopes of Tourmalet, with 9.4km to go to the finish line on the summit. The battle for yellow starts here...
Alberto Contador has stayed with Schleck... Denis Menchov is left behind, for now. The chase group is no more because that move by Schleck blew most of them away.
Andy Schleck attacks.
Jakob Fuglsang is the Saxo Bank rider leading the way now, and is grimacing as he continues to set a fierce pace. This group is still shedding riders all the time. With 10km to go, they are catching Alexandr Kolobnev very quickly and his lead is down to one minute and 15 seconds.
Alberto Contador is the only Astana rider in this chase group, sitting on Andy Schleck's wheel at the moment - he will be happy if he stays there until the finish, obviously. Up the hill, there is 11.5km to go for Alexandr Kolobnev, who is one minute and 55 seconds ahead of this bunch.
Another Saxo Bank rider, Chris Anker Sorensen, is working hard at the front of the yellow jersey group, which is down to 30 riders - including Andy Schleck too of course. Lance Armstrong is also still up there, but I can't spot Bradley Wiggins.
Fabian Cancellara gave his all for his team, but now has nothing left - he almost went backwards after peeling off the front of that pack of riders containing Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. Up the road, the lead group has split up and Alexandr Kolobnev and Marcus Burghardt were leading the way... now it is just Kolbnev on his own, with 13km to go, and a lead of two minutes and 24 seconds on the yellow jersey bunch.
Andy Schleck's Saxo Bank team-mates, with Fabian Cancellara leading the way, are setting a terrific pace at the front of the peloton and dropping more and more riders. Up the road, the leaders are 2min 30sec ahead with 14.2km to go.
Oh dear. Ivan Basso has already slid off the back of the peloton. The winner of this year's Giro d'Italia has not had a Tour to remember.
Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen is the first of the breakaway bunch to crack on Tourmalet. Back down the hill, the peloton is upping the pace and the gap to the leaders is down to three minutes. I get the feeling that this race is about to explode into life...
From Cainy via Maz&Baz, via text:
"Clouds still rolling over Tourmalet summit. Visibility less than 50 metres. Sporadically clearing for bright sunshine."
The leading seven riders have hit the slopes of Tourmalet, which means the finish line is about 18km away - upwards - and somewhere in the clouds. By the way, Carlos Sastre has just been spat out at the back of the peloton. Not a good day for him.
From Andy in Bristol, via text:
"Andy Schleck to win! Spain have won enough this year. Taking the football World Cup, Nadal claiming the French Open and Wimbledon. Give Luxembourg some glory!"
The gap to the front seven - Team Sky duo Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen, plus Kristjan Koren (Liquigas), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Remi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) - is down to four minutes now, with 20km to go... but this stage is more about the battle for yellow than who will be the first over the line at the summit of Tourmalet, although that could turn out to be the same thing.
Real signs of life at the front of the peloton, where the Rabobank team are setting the pace. Our live commentary (above, or give this page a manual refresh to access it) has now started, just in time for the climax to what could be an epic stage. We are about to find out what Schleck and Contador have got in store for us...
Interesting. Very interesting. I've just received a flurry of texts in favour of Contador (from about 12 people called Andy/Andrew in various locations around the world, Spanish Bill, Adam in London, Kate in Durham and Craig in Brockley to name but a few). We've got 25km to go and Carlos Sastre has just been caught by the peloton... things are definitely hotting up.
From Adam in London, via text:
"Re 1504. I want Contador to win! Why should he have stopped for someone who made a mistake? No other sport would even entertain the notion. Hope this finish is as exciting as everyone wants."
From Edik on 606:
"Re 1504. I hope Denis Menchov takes five minutes off both of them. But then I do live in Russia."
That gap to the front seven is going up again... 5 minutes and 30 seconds with 31km to go. One of them will definitely have earned their stage win if they do stay out. Mind you, there is still an awful lot of work to do - the last 18.6km are uphill.
From Will in Leeds, via text:
"Re 1504. Nope, we're all against him! I hope Andy gets two minutes on the little cheat today."
Ah. Our commentary will start at 1530 BST
, which explains why it isn't working yet. I'll leave the link in and give you a reminder when it's about to start.
Apologies... the commentary link is playing up a bit. Those sheep are to blame, I reckon, but I will try to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, the riders are still descending off Soulor and are nearly at the bottom of it (the valley that is).
I'll be honest, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of support for Mr Contador today, whether it be via text (thanks to James in Woolwich and Lee in Amesbury as two recent examples) or on 606 (where most people are currently talking about sheep). Does anyone want the Spaniard to bury Andy Schleck's challenge on the slopes of Tourmalet, or are you all against the man in yellow?
From Dave in Halifax, via text:
"We are all building up this last climb to be the defining moment of the Tour. Let us hope it doesn't disappoint."
Right then. About 50km to go until the finish line... and hopefully lots of fireworks to come in the meantime. If you give this page a manual refresh, you will see the link (just above what you are reading now) that allows you to listen to our live commentary
of the climax to today's stage. It begins at 1500 BST.
The gap to the maillot jaune group is still coming down as the front seven go over the top of Soulor - down to four minutes and 20 seconds now. Caros Sastre is still out on his own in the middle, about two minutes and 45 seconds clear of the main bunch. Everyone is putting on extra layers for the descent, apart from the sheep, who are probably used to this sort of weather.
Some sheep are on the road and, briefly, in the way as the peloton continue their ascent. No casualties - woolly or otherwise - though. I grew up in the wilds of North Wales (well, Colwyn Bay) and am used to sheep being a cycling hazard.
Blimey, there is thick cloud all around the riders as they approach the top of Soulor. Tourmalet is about 600m higher (2,111m) so our friends who are texting in from up there are right to be worried that they might not be able to see what is going on later!
The seven leaders, who let's not forget have been out on their own since almost the very start, have 61km of today's 174km stage left, and quite a lot of it is uphill! They are around 4km from the top of Soulor, and have an advantage of 5 minutes and 19 seconds. We've not seen much of Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck yet, apart from a few cameo appearances towards the front of the peloton. A lot more to come from them though...
From Maz & Baz, via text:
"Tourmalet summit now under cloud. Visibility less than 50m. Puts a whole new slant on an "exciting finish" - ie we may not see it!"
The Astana team of maillot jaune Alberto Contador are still leading the chase at the front of the peloton. Right at the back is Christophe Moreau, who needs those climbing points (see below) badly but was briefly dropped after suffering a puncture.
That gap to the front seven riders - Team Sky duo Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen, plus Kristjan Koren (Liquigas), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Remi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) - has come down to five minutes and 30 seconds as they continue their climb up to the top of Col du Solour. Carlos Sastre is only 1min 30 seconds ahead of the peloton, so there could be some climbing points available to one rider in the main bunch.
From steviep1 on 606:
"Do people think Carlos Sastre will crack? It can't be easy being all on your lonesome!"
He's probably used to it, to be fair! Carlos is definitely a man who likes a solo attack.
From Cainy,Chas & Rhodesy, via Runcorn metrological centre, via text:
"Just started to rain on top of Col de Tourmalet. Apparently plastic sheets are 'de rigeur'. Hold that, the sun is out again. The weather is changing faster than I can forward texts!"
There had been reports that Alessandro Petacchi had been dropped by the peloton - he was definitely one of those to fall behind on Col de Marie-Blanque - but it's difficult to know whether he has regained touch. Even if he is back in the bunch, he is unlikely to stay there to the top of Col du Soulor - mountains are not his 'thang'.
I've got to admit I'm just thinking of the Tourmalet at the moment - I think a few of the riders will be too. Still, they have got to go over the top of Soulor first. The breakaway riders are about seven minutes clear at the moment, so that gap is falling - albeit slowly.
From the wholehog on 606:
"Just thinking the lead group is a good number and some decent riders, and Astana won't want to work too hard in pulling this back to the foot of the Tourmalet. For one of the riders to survive to the the top, they'll need at least 5 mins at the bottom. Looks like Saxo and Lotto working on the front as well, so if that continues, the break is doomed."
From Tom P (aka Cold du Tourmalet), via text:
"Standing at the last bend on Col du Tourmalet about 400m from finish. Been here six hours. Terrible weather so far, but finally brightening up and the crowd is getting lively. Hope the weather holds for the riders."
A quick update on the King of the Mountain standings... points are only available for the first eight riders, which means that Anthony Charteau and Christophe Moreau will only take an interest if the peloton chases down Carlos Sastre before the top of Col du Soulor. Sastre is around four minutes clear of the main bunch at the moment, with Astana and Omega Pharma Lotto the two teams who are doing most work at the front.
From Mihir_h on Twitter:
"Dont think Andy Schleck will be able to do it today. After a days rest, Alberto Contador will be fresh enough to repel any Schleck attacks."
Ok, not long to go until the leaders hit the bottom slopes of Col du Soulor. They are still pushing hard at the front, and their lead is still above eight minutes. Back in the peloton, the musettes are out and the riders are refuelling.
From TallBlondJohn on 606:
"Yup looks like Carlos Sastre is getting cooked in the gap. Serves him right for attacking when he did."
Sastre is now more than three minutes back by the way.
From Max & Baz in sunny Cheshire, via text:
"In work, texting excellent live text info to friends sat at the top of Tourmalet. Modern technology! They tell me the sun has just come out up there."
Ask them to keep the weather updates coming please!
Note to self - never try to predict the weather! You can ignore 1320, because apparently the sun has broken through the clouds at the top of Tourmalet, although it is pretty windy up there too (I haven't got a graphic for that but I'm sure you lot might be able to suggest an image or two!).
Carlos Sastre crams a bit of cake in his, erm, cakehole as he continues his pursuit of the front seven... he is falling back again though and is now two-and-a-half minutes adrift. In case you have forgotten, that breakaway bunch contains Team Sky duo Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen, plus Kristjan Koren (Liquigas), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Remi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC). They are eight minutes and 21 seconds ahead of the peloton, where Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck are sitting pretty, waiting for Battle Royale to commence on Tourmalet... the riders will be reaching the bottom of that monstrous peak at around 1530 BST.
From rastafairy5 on 606:
"Tough, you call riding up the Tourmalet tough? Try it with all your camping gear strapped on the bike. Then try it with your rear wheel hub disintegrating and patching it up with wire and margarine (no grease!). Then you'll know what tough is! (PS, the next day I did it without all the camping gear to see the Tour, and the way those guys go up there IS REALLY TOUGH!) Even the slow guys 'zoom'!"
The rain is coming down again as the riders continue their descent of Marie-Blanque. Not sure what the weather is doing at the top of Tourmalet, but I'm guessing there is no need to get the sun-block out.
From UrlaubInPolen on 606:
"Re the King of the mountains battle. My thoughts are that if the peloton drives very hard on Col du Soulor and catches the breakaway, Christophe Moreau can gain 15 points by taking maximum. With eight riders up the road I think they take all the points away on the Marie-Blanque. But if Caisse can drop Anthony Charteau and Moreau can take maximum there, Moreau would take the jersey because he has the most Hors Category (beyond categorisation) climbs..."
Great effort by Carlos Sastre, who is just one minute and 20 seconds down on the front seven now. His Cervelo team-mate Ignatas Konovalovas, who helped Sastre escape the bunch just after Sam Sanchez had crashed, has just been absorbed back into the peloton as they near the top of Marie-Blanque.
From Harry Howgill, via text:
"I once holidayed near the Tourmalet but sadly without my bike. So I ran up it instead! I'm hoping Andy Schleck will put in a decisive attack today."
Juan Antonio Flecha was the firs man to the top of the Col de Marie-Blanque, which is a relatively short climb but a very steep one. Back in the peloton, Astana are setting a mean old pace at the front and Cavendish is not the only one unable to keep up - there are riders strung out all over the hill.
Mark Cavendish is among the riders to have been dropped by the main bunch on the way up to the top of Marie-Blanque... I don't think he is going to enjoy today very much. As for Carlos Sastre? He is persevering and is back within three minutes of the breakaway riders, who are approaching the summit.
As a few of you have pointed out on 606, that Sam Sanchez crash - and subsequent slowdown by the peloton - was good news for King of the Mountains leader Anthony Charteau because it will affect how many points his main rival Christophe Moreau can win today.
Carlos Sastre, who won Le Tour in 2008, is on his own on the road now, after Ignatas Konovalovas dropped off his pace, and his bid to join the seven breakaway riders seems to be failing - he is now four minutes behind them.
From Tony, via text:
"Re van occupanther. I am staying at work so this is bound to be very exciting, although i am '+ing' (is this acceptable yet or should I still say taping?) it at home so will be logging off this soon (just as long as it takes to realise my comment won't be used). For what it's worth, I hope Schleck does enough today."
Here's a weather update for you. Apparently there is thick cloud at the top of Col du Tourmalet and visibility is pretty poor, although it has stopped raining.
The breakaway riders are still working hard and are now nine minutes and 18 seconds clear of the peloton as they start up the slopes of Col de Marie Blanque. By the way, I meant to tell you earlier that Sam Sanchez is now safely back in the main bunch.
The seven breakaway riders are now seven minutes and 38 seconds ahead of the peloton and, with none of them in contention for the general classification, we might see that gap continue to grow. Carlos Sastre and Ignatas Konovalovas are still trying to bridge the gap and remain around three minutes behind off the leaders.
From Sam, a Brit working in Germany, via text:
"Re 1158. I Didn't manage to make it to the pub to watch but will be following today's stage avidly on the BBC website. (Thanks BBC!) I cannot wait to see what happens on the climbs. I think if the two Schlecks (Frank and Andy) were racing they'd escape Alberto Condator, but as it is Alberto will stick to Andy Schleck like glue. Would love to see Schleck get away though!"
From BBC Sport's Alex Murray on 606:
"Re Simon C and Schleck attacking on Soulor. That descent is wide open and fast, not technical, there's then about 20km from Argeles-Gazost to the foot of Tourmalet which is fast and almost entirely flat. Only way that will work is if he has Cancellara and others dragging him across that flat bit. Also he's a lousy descender compared to Contador."
While the main bunch waited for Sam Sanchez to catch up, the seven breakaway riders opened their lead on the peloton up to five minutes and 55 seconds. They still have 137km of today's stage to go, including all three major climbs. Two riders, Carlos Sastre and Ignatas Konovalovas, are trying to bridge the gap and are about three minutes behind the leaders at the moment.
If you are wondering just how tough today's stage is, then the
BBC's Alex Murray is probably the man to tell you.
Last Sunday, he joined 10,000 other riders in the Etape du Tour, and ended up hauling himself up to the finish line at the top of the Tourmalet in 10 hours and 43 minutes, taking a video camera with him to film his long climb to the summit at the end of a 174km ride. Chapeau Alex!
From Simon C in Reigate, via text:
"Don't be surprised to see Schleck attack on the Soulor. The rain will make the descent to the valley and up onto the Tourmalet impossible for Astana to chase down with alacrity."
Hmmm. Carlos Sastre rode off from the front of the peloton after that smash, but the big-hitters - Contador, Scheck and Menchov brought the pace right down to wait for Sam Sanchez. The good news is that it looks as if Sanchez was only winded and he is being helped to regain touch by his Euskaltel team-mates.
Uh-oh. There's been a big smash in the peloton and it is bad news for Sam Sanchez - who is in third overall. He was lying on the ground for a long time, and looks in a lot of pain... but he is being helped back on his bike right now.
From van occupanther on 606:
"Hope I am not the only one taking the afternoon off work to go to the pub to watch this! Obviously, because I am doing this, it will be a damp uneventful squib, if I was at work it would be the greatest stage ever. Anyway, as people are saying, I think Schleck can take a bit of time but probably not enough. am curious to see what (if anything) Denis Menchov and Sam Sanchez have up their sleeves."
It will definitely be damp, but let's hope it's not uneventful!
By the way, we've lost another rider - Lampre's Simon Spilak started today's stage but the Slovenian has just pulled out of the Tour... leaving us with 171 survivors.
Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team-mates are sharing responsibilities with Astana at the front of the peloton and they appear keen not to let that gap grow any bigger. Three more riders tried to escape off the front but are being quickly reeled in.
Apart from Flecha and Hagen, the other riders in the breakaway bunch are Kristjan Koren (Liquigas), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Remi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC). Their lead has been allowed to grow to three minutes and 20 seconds.
From Ben in New Cross, via text:
"Absolutely mad for this stage, can't wait! Sounds like it could be carnage in those conditions! Come on Andy Schleck!"
By the looks of things, the battle for the green jersey will go on until the Champs Elysees in Paris... but we might see the current leader in that category - Norway's Thor Hushovd - try to extend his advantage in a couple of intermediate sprints along the way today. Hushovd is on 191 points, ahead of Italy's Alessandro Petacchi (187) and Manxman Mark Cavendish (162).
The stage has only just started, and there has already been a break. Team Sky duo Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen are among seven men to have opened up a gap of around one minute and 20 seconds on the peloton.
Yep, the battle for the King of the Mountains title will be decided today, with 73 points up for grabs. France's Anthony Charteau is the man currently wearing the polka-dot jersey, on 143 points, just ahead of his compatriot Christophe Moreau (128) who, as thewholehog says below, got back into contention after a battling ride on Tuesday.
From thewholehog on 606:
"Lots of opportunities for breakaways today. Schleck will want to save his effort for the last climb, Contador will want to keep his team around him to wait for the Schleck attack, and the weather will make the descents more dangerous and potentially benefit the attackers. Points up for grabs in the mountains classement - will Christophe Moreau go off on another break? I'm hoping the old man can do it again..."
Just the 3,611
metres of climbing in today's stage then. Oh, and the weather is appalling too - cold and wet. That means the descents of the first two climbs of the day (Col de Marie-Blanque and Col du Soulor) will be a lot more hairy than usual, especially if you consider that every second counts.
1123: Andy Schleck on his hopes of overhauling Spain's Alberto Contador and clinch his first Tour de France crown:
"I believe the Tour will be decided on the Tourmalet - the first guy up there will also win the Tour. I know I need to be in yellow for the start ramp for the time-trial to have a chance to win this Tour. If I don't start in yellow, I won't beat Alberto. But I cannot tell you how much (time) I need."
Here's where we stand at the very top of the General Classification then. Two-time winner Alberto Contador, the defending champion, holds an eight-second lead over Schleck, having
controversially taken advantage
when his rival suffered mechanical problems with his chain on Monday. After today, the only real opportunity for each rider to make up time will come in Saturday's individual time trial, where Contador is expected to be fastest. The key word there is 'expected'... but, realistically, Schleck needs to take a lot of time off the Spaniard today.
Yep, the 172 surviving riders in this year's Tour are just about to roll through the neutral zone in Pau, knowing that today's 174km stage - featuring a mountain-top finish on top of the legendary Col du Tourmalet - will all but decide whether Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck will claim overall victory in Paris on Sunday.
Hello. Now, I don't normally like to hype things up without justification but surely you cannot blame me for being extremely excited at the start of stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France? This could be a very special day indeed...