With the 15 km climb to the Plateau de Beille rearing up before them, the main contenders were massed to attack the inevitable Spanish breakaways - all except Vinokourov who paid for yesterday's fine stage win.
Rabobank immediately went to the front to distance the pretenders to Rasmussen's jersey with Michael Boogerd showing real strength in his last Tour. Valverde was the first GC man to go and Kloden was looking troubled. Discovery's Popovych then worked very hard for Leipheimer and Contador, before the final selection was made.
The lead group contained a super-strong Contador, a nervous Rasmussen, an experienced Sastre, an unpredictable Soler, and two riders who were marking moves desperately, Evans and Leipheimer. Rasmussen and Contador soon realised that they were the strongest and rode together to distance Evans and Kloden who were intent on limiting their losses to the climbers and thinking about Saturday.
As the pair entered the cauldron of fans unique to a mountain-top Tour finish, the alliance split as Rasmussen bickered with Contador expecting the young Spaniard to come through and do a turn. No doubt under orders from the wily Bruyneel, Contador was having none of it, knowing that Rasmussen had to pull him to the finish to maximise his gains over Kloden and Evans. (In the old days, Rasmussen would simply have sold the stage to Contador in exchange for his work).
Sure enough, Contador came round the Maillot Jaune for the stage, a huge win for him so close to the Spanish border. They were chased home by the eccentric but gifted Columbian Soler, then two men not quite strong enough for the stage, Leipheimer and Sastre, then the two time-trial specialists, Evans and Kloden, both of whom were smart and brave.
After two tumultuous days, Rasmussen is still in yellow with Contador at 2.23, Evans at 3.04, Leipheimer at 4.29 and Kloden at 4.38. Tomorrow is another brutal day, with a brief respite on Tuesday before the last mountain stage on Wednesday and the crucial contre-le-montre lurking on Saturday. Rasmussen is now odds-on, which can't be right, with Contador good value at 9/4, Evans at 7/1 and Kloden available at 12/1, which must be too generous with two mountain stages and the time trial to come. Contador looks the coming man to me and may usher in a new era for the Tour after last year's disaster - let's hope so, whoever wears yellow in Paris. Join Mimi next week for her inimitable reportage.