Coming a day before the all-important yellow jersey decider, Friday's 19th stage of the Tour de France is shaping up to be a hectic free-for-all.
But with the finish line of the 165km race between Roanne and Montlucon at the end of a 1km-long home straight, the sprinters - and green jersey wearer Oscar Freire of Spain - will be particularly interested.
Freire, the winner of the 14th stage at Digne-les-Bains, faces a crucial couple of days if he is to become the first Spaniard to win the sprinters' big prize that was launched in 1953. He has a total of 219 points in the green jersey competition, a lead of 47 on Norway's 2005 winner Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole.
Unless a breakaway goes unchallenged, Freire will be asking his Rabobank team to be vigilant in the second half of the stage where six, four and two points can be won by the first three finishers over the two intermediate sprints, at the 102.5 and 143.5km marks.
But the Spaniard will be even more careful at the finish line, where the first 25 finishers pick up points, beginning with 35 for the winner, 30 for the second, 26 for the third and so on. Freire's bid could however be given a boost by the ambitions of some of the fast men who have yet to win a stage this year.
Australia's Robbie McEwen and Belgian Gert Steegmans are among the big name sprinters to have succumbed to quadruple stage winner Mark Cavendish, prior to the Manxman's departure from the race earlier this week.
Another two types of rider may also look to benefit from the fact that the yellow jersey battle will be suspended for a day ahead of Australian Cadel Evans' bid to loosen the yellow jersey grip of Carlos Sastre in Saturday's time trial.
Those who have been helping the yellow jersey contenders, if they still have some juice left, will see the 19th stage as their last chance to claim some personal glory after three weeks of toil. The story is the same for the riders who, so far, have failed to deliver for their respective teams following numerous attempts in breakaways.
Because of the difficult start to Friday's race, which rises steadily over the first 17km towards the summit of the category three-rated Croix-du-Sud climb, breakaways are a near certainty. Whether the sprinters' teams, after three tough days in the Alps, have the inspiration - and the legs - to launch a pursuit remains to be seen.
Here's what Procycling's Daniel Friebe thinks about Stage 19 on BikeRadar's recent Tour podcast.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008