The Tour de France is just about to leave the Alps and it is down to a two-man race. Many expected the third week to be where all the fireworks would happen, but when the race finally went uphill at the end of week number one things just exploded.
Stage 7 from Morzine-Avoriaz wetted our appetite. Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong was not among the favorites who climbed to the massive ski area built by the founder of Vuarnet sunglasses, Jean Vuarnet. But, all the other favorites save Bradley Wiggins made the train.
Stage 8 provided the real drama as the race finally reached its first, true hors category climb, the Col de la Madeleine. This 5500' ascent in about 12 miles is usually very selective and two of the pre-race favorites, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck took the opportunity to show why they are the strongest riders in the race.
What made this stage particularly exciting is that instead of waiting for the steep section, which occurs about three miles from the top, Contador put his Astana team on the front at the bottom and decided it was time to put everyone in a spot of bother. And that they did. Andy Schleck, sensing that his rivals were in difficulty attacked and only Contador could follow.
The two played cat and mouse for a few kilometers until it was clear that the best option was for them to work together and eliminate the rest of the field from contention. It was a grand show of bike racing, something which brings forth all the emotion and passion of cycling.
So, now we are down to two contenders for the yellow jersey. Certainly, the decision will be made in the Pyrenees close to Spain and Alberto's fans. I would normally bet on Contador, but Andy Schleck is showing to be very tough and we may have to wait until the final time trial to see who will wear yellow in Paris.
ps - the race for the third spot on the podium will also be very exciting as a group of six or seven riders, including three-time Amgen Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer. Leipheimer stood on the podium in Paris in 2007. This time around he will have Lance Armstrong as a domestique to help him in the mountains.