The Tour de France concludes in Paris this weekend with the duel for the race leader's yellow jersey set to end in Alberto Contador's favour.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, who won the 2007 and 2009 Tours, finished half a bike wheel behind Andy Schleck on yesterday's 174km 17th stage from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet to retain an eight-second advantage.
With today's 198km 18th stage from Salies-de-Bearn to Bordeaux expected to be one for the sprinters, the overall battle for the maillot jaune will resume with tomorrow's 52km individual time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac.
Contador (Astana) stopped short of celebrating his third Tour in four years as he emerged from the mist-shrouded Col du Tourmalet on the shoulder of Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), but the Spaniard is the more competent against the clock.
Contador finished 42 seconds and 116 places ahead of Schleck in the Tour's opening 8.9km prologue in Rotterdam, but is avoiding complacency.
"I'm still wanting and wishing to win my third Tour de France -- I'm not yet there," said Contador. "I still have to reach Paris and it's not easy.
"We have a very long and tough time-trial on Saturday."
On Wednesday's rest day, Schleck admitted he would have to be in the lead for the time-trial through the vineyards of south-west France in order to be successful overall.
But following his second stage win of the 97th Tour he changed his mind in his assessment that the rider in yellow today would win overall -- he is not prepared to give up while the opportunity of victory remains.
"We will see after the time-trial," said Schleck, who also won the eighth stage to Morzine-Avoriaz.
"It's only eight seconds and I can see the yellow jersey in front of me. I really want it and I'm not going to give up until Paris."
For the first time in three weeks Ireland's Nicolas Roche was happy after breaking back into the top 15 with a 12th place finish yesterday.
"When Schleck attacked with 9.5km to go though, the increase in pace saw me drift off the back, he said. "I kept focused, concentrated on my breathing and rode at my own pace.
"The last few corners were really steep and I was pulling faces when I crossed the line for 12th place on the stage, three minutes and 26 seconds behind stage winner Schleck.
"I had taken time out of Vinokourov, Sastre and Lofkvist, though, and moved back up three places to 15th overall. For the first time in three weeks, today I'm happy. Happy to be back in the top 15, happy with my ride and happy the mountains are over.
"Since the Tour entered the mountains, I have been climbing in the top 20 riders. I knew that if I continued to do that, I would slowly slide down the general classification and didn't think I could get back into the top 15 again.
"Today's stage is flat and should end in a bunch sprint and, although I said previously that I would try and do something in the sprints in the final week, I don't think it would be fair on Lloyd (Mondory) to take over his role as team sprinter.
"I'm back in the top 15, but it's going to be tough to stay there with the final time trial coming on Saturday. Vino and Lofkvist are time-trial specialists and I know two minutes on Vino and two and a half on Lofkvist is not a lot, but I will fight to hold my place."