In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
As we enter the final week of racing in the 2013 Giro d’Italia the battle for overall glory is still far from decided.
Can Cadel gain the time needed on Nibali to regain a nations confidence and prove that he isn’t past his best, become the first Australian overall Pink jersey victor?
Or will Nibali who is yet to take a step wrong finish off the hard work of his team, hold on and give the Italian’s something to cheer about?
Uran is still in touching distance of the lead taking over team leadership after Wiggins withdrew from the race. Will the Colombian climber be able to add to team Sky’s GC winning tally?
Mentally and physically the final week becomes a battle.
Some of the hardest stages are still to come and the race can be won or lost in the final week. The lasting GC favourites look for any opportunity to gain that all-important time on their rivals.
The day following a rest day can be the make or break day for a rider.
With two weeks of racing already in the legs where riders have faced torrential rain, Southern Italian heat and even blizzard snow conditions to go with the tough parcours.
Their body is tired, all they want to do is stay in bed but it is back to business and some will react better than others to the rest day.
The rest day is there to give the riders a break away from all the stress of racing, to try and recover and refresh ahead of the next part of the race. Some riders like rest days, many don’t.
On the rest day riders will still go out on their bike, spin the legs out for a few hours so their body doesn’t shut down. Massage, physio, media commitments and chilling out are all part of the rest day.
The problem is when your body has been working hard day in, day out and you finally give it that break it can be difficult to sometimes back up the next day into hard racing again.
Some riders I’m sure would hope for a sprint stage the day following to ride them back into race as opposed to a hard day in the mountains where there is no hiding.
Unfortunately for the riders today was anything but an easy day. It was a medium mountains day, a potential break away stage but with undulating terrain, technical descents, it allowed for aggressive and exciting racing.
A large break established itself for much of the day. As the race headed towards the business end it became a race out front between the breakaway riders looking for opportunities to chase stage glory.
The peloton however, kept them in reaching distance eventually reeling them all in and forming an elite selection at the front of the race.
With some big mountain stages still to come in the final week, the GC contenders were happy to sit back and watch each other as they pushed through the tough final climb of the day to Andrate. The main excitement of the day came in the descent towards the finish.
With Nibali known to be a fantastic descender, he put pressure on Evans and Uran to test if he could open more time on his rivals. The were all able to match each other as they flew down the descent.
It came right down to the wire for stage glory with a number of attacks all the way to the finish.
Movistar were able to celebrate for a second stage in a row as Benat Intxausti opened a gap in the final 3km’s winning a three up sprint just ahead of the GC battle.
With the overall classification remaining mostly unchanged it is going to be an exciting battle as they head into the final mountains along with one last individual TT.
Who will come out on top? Only time will tell. We will find out on Sunday in Brescia when the winner will be crowned on what has been so far a brutal race.