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).
Rui Costa (Movistar) triumphed in Gap, the gateway to the Alps, last night proving to be the strongest man in the 23-rider break and taking a brilliant solo win on Stage 16 of the Tour de France while Chris Froome narrowly survived a major scare.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) continues to be in complete control and on top of all the attacks retaining his yellow jersey with no change to the overall at the top end of the race.
A medium mountains day sandwiched between a rest day and important time trial with a lot of climbing still to come in the final week of racing.
We could’ve been in for a somewhat ‘boring’ day of viewing with GC riders wanting to have an easier day, happy to ride tempo, look after themselves and let the break have the glory.
Instead it was quite the opposite, a very exciting day of racing where we were experiencing two race battles in one.
Sure, you still had the early break but back in the race for the overall, Froome may still have a comfortable lead but the other guys are not going to just serve the yellow jersey to him on a silver platter.
They are going to push him all the way to Paris to see if they can crack him and somehow regain the time lost so far.
The further the Tour continues, the smaller the number of contenders for the yellow jersey becomes and the bigger the early breaks seem to be.
For Team Sky, the first hour of racing can sometimes be the most difficult.
They want to have an early break but they don’t want to have the same issue as last week where they were caught off guard and have big GC threats going down the road.
They have to take control at the front and be aware who is going up the road to make sure they are of no threat to Froome.
For the guys or teams who have no chance left in the overall standings, they want to take advantage of days like today to go down the road and try to claim a stage win.
We saw exactly that today with a number of teams, big names and breakaway specialists present in the group looking for opportunities.
After a fast start and a few attempts to form the breakaway, finally after 40km of racing a group of 26 guys that Team Sky were happy with was established.
They steadily built up their lead and worked together right up until the final climb of the day the Cat 2 Col de Manse, where they had an advantage of over 11 minutes on the peloton.
First it was the French riders of Biel Kadri and Jean Marc Marino to get their mugs on TV and go on the attack on the approach to the climb but this quickly proved to be too early, as the climb truly began so did the fireworks.
It was Adam Hansen and then Tom Dumoulin who went and bridged across to the leaders before Hansen powered on past and tried to go off on his own.
They were soon chased down and caught as more guys went on the front foot, looking for opportunities.
With the lead break shattering over the first half of the climb, a result from the many attacks, and guys looking for stage glory it was Costa who took off and managed to establish a gap on the remainder of his breakaway companions.
There was no turning back as he powered on and crested the top of the climb with a handy 30-second lead on the closest chasers.
Only the infamous descent off of the Col de Manse into Gap that stood in the way of Costa and a stage victory he continued to push on.
Pushing hard but staying upright through the technical descent, he had time to savour his victory, second Tour de France stage win of his career and a nice reward after sacrificing his race to help team leader Valverde when he fell into trouble on stage 13.
The remainder of the breakaway came into the finish in dribs and drabs but it was what had been happening on the road behind them that we were all interested in.
First it was Katusha who took up the charge on the early slopes of Col de Manse as Rodríguez went on to set a fierce pace, shelling a large amount of guys as he tried to move himself up on the overall.
Rodríguez forced a group of eight guys to go clear with Froome firmly towards the head of the group with lieutenant Richie Porte by his side.
Quintana, Valverde, Contador, Kreuziger and Mollema all made the split, while the remainder of the GC contenders were left behind struggling to hold the pace.
Attacks were thrown left, right and centre at Froome with Contador the main antagonist but Porte did an amazing job to continually chase and shut down the moves.
Porte was briefly dropped from the lead group as the attacks continued but he fought his way back as the pace slowed to get back to Froome’s side.
Despite the countless attacks the group of eight crested the top of the climb together, but Team Sky knew the pressure would be applied all the way to the finish.
They flew down the descent through the tight switchbacks, Contador on the front taking huge risks to try and gain any time he could on his rivals.
Eventually he came unstuck as he crashed on one of the corners, almost taking down Froome, causing him to unclip and lose contact with the front.
Porte was on hand to wait for his leader and help bring him back to the group with Contador in tow.
Slowly but surely by the time they finished the descent and turned onto the flat run in to the finish they had regained contact with the other leaders and ended up coming across the line together.
An exciting stage of racing with a lot of aggression but at the end of the day no time gains were made among the top few GC riders and the overall classification remains more or less the same.
A lot of energy was used and perhaps this will hurt some of the guys for the tough time trial tomorrow but it is great to see the pressure continually being put on, as no one is willing to give up the fight.
I think we are in for a thrilling week of final racing, three big mountain stages remain after the time trial before the celebratory ride onto the Champs Elysess.