Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this year's Tour de France showdown, the third mountain top finish of the 96th edition and the all-decisive one. Some of the Tour's most legendary chapters - both the glorious and the tragic ones - were written on the slopes of the dreaded 'bald mountain', the Mont Ventoux. This year, the giant of Provence has been placed on the route just 24 hours prior to the final coronation on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, and is going to be the ultimate cycling spectacle.
Coming from Montélimar, the bunch will pass through olive country near Nyons and hit the hilly hinterland of the mountain from its Northern side. A loop eastwards will then see the riders tackle the non-classified Col de Notre-Dame des Abeilles before they hit the final climb from its traditional, most difficult side starting in Bédoin.
Whoever is wearing the yellow jersey will have to defend his lead to the teeth, constantly attacked by his closest challengers. The 21.2 kilometres averaging 7.6 percent gradient promise to be epic, as anyone can still win - or lose - the 2009 Tour de France today. In the midst of the rocky white moon-like scenery of the Ventoux, strengths and weaknesses are laid bare.
Jonathan Vaughters' views
The big show: On what will probably be a scorching hot day, this will decide it all.
Ventoux is often ascended, but rarely this late in the race. It will add a whole new dynamic of fatigue.
If Contador has the jersey here, its hard to see him losing it, but on a hot day, late in the race, you can never tell.
For the stage win, I’d look for a rider who is a bit out of touch on GC and is given a bit of rope early on the climb - the same way Valverde won in the Dauphine.
Who’s that rider? Well, I guess I hope Christian Vande Velde is back to top form by then, and pulls off the win of his life. That wish aside, Contador seems like a likely candidate, along with another guy I haven't spoken much of, but will be there for sure, Andy Schleck.