What a stage! What a race!
The real battle of the Tour de France came down the the climb of Mont Ventoux and good choice by the Tour Organisers, the final hour of the ascent of the Giant of Provence lived up to it hype of being the place where the general classifications would be decided.
The seven heads of state Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Andreas Kloden, Frank Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali were the ones who kept together when the big group hit the slopes above Bedoin. They started to close down the leaders up the slopes Juan Manuel Garate and Tony Martin, but that wasn't the reason for their speed.
Frank Schleck attacked a number of times, but each time he was marked by Lance Armstrong determined not to cede his third step on the podium. When little brother Andy attacked it was the Maillot Jaune on the back of Contador that came with, but when Frank didn't follow he sat up. Obviously more determined to help his brother get a leap on Armstrong rather than try and get the 4'11" he needed over the man who was covering his every move.
Kloden was the first of the big 7 to suffer and slip off the back. But Nibali and Wiggins also at times seemed to struggle to get back. But over and over again 6 of the heads of state kept together. Kloden any time he thought there was a hope of getting back on the back wheel suffered as another acceleration pulled them away again.
Then in the final two kilometres Andy went again this time with brother Frank on his wheel. Armstong and Contador went with, but Wiggins seemed unable to respond. Was this the time that more British hopes were to fade, almost at the point when the memorial marks the death of Tom Simpson on the same slopes. But no Wiggins kept digging in finding reserves from somewhere.
At the line Garate crossed first, then Martin. Then the three leaders of the race A. Schleck, with Contador and a three second gap to Armstrong. But with Kloden down the road the only real gap that mattered was going to be between Frank Schleck and Bradley Wiggins. At 43" after Garate the elder Schleck crossed the line Brad had to get there before the race showed +1'06". Then on the left hand side of the road almost out of view of the camera Bradley Wiggin's reminiscent of Steven Roche he appeared crossing the line at +1'03" twenty seconds lost but 4th place retained for the procession towards the Champs Élysées tomorrow.
Of course the Brits have had a good tour David Miller has been doing sterling work, and just missed out on the run into Barcelona of individual glory. Wiggins of course has ridden high up the GC and has given hope of making a podium in Paris in the years to come (why did that Texan have to come out of retirement this year?). But a little man from the Isle of Man is going for 6 tomorrow. If only he hadn't been disqualified on the run into Besancon we may still have seen him and Thor Husovd competing the two intermediates as well as the final bunch sprint on the Champs Éylsées tomorrow.
But as it is Britain's top stage winner Mark Cavendish and equal top finisher Bradley Wiggins can look forward to Paris tomorrow one to relax the other has one more goal, to be the first of the men to cover the 3252km of the 96th Tour de France, even if only by a few yards and hundredths of a second.