Cycling's premier race, the Tour de France, is in its final week, with four-time defending champion Lance Armstrong of the United States holding a razor-thin, 15-second lead over his two top rivals - German Jan Ullrich and Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan.
Monday's 15th stage will send the cyclists on another punishing uphill course through the Pyrenees Mountains - 159.5 kilometers between Bagneres-de-Bigorre and Luz-Ardiden, a route marked by six steep climbs four category-one and two category-two hills.
Armstrong has said he does not feel as strong as in previous years, but he will be racing aggressively. He holds a 15-second lead over Ullrich, and 18 seconds over Vinokourov. The 31-year-old Texan said Monday is "the big stage" that could decide the outcome of this year's Tour.
The more than 150 riders still in the race have an off day Tuesday, then five more days of intense cycling before the 100th Tour de France ends Sunday in Paris.
Vinokourov, a rising star on the professional cycling circuit, made a strong breakaway Sunday that neither Armstrong nor Ullrich could match. He finished 43 seconds ahead of the more experienced riders, but is still in third place overall.
Ullrich put on an unbeatable display of speed and power in last week's individual time trials, and has been challenging Armstrong for the lead ever since. The German star won the Tour in 1997 but subsequently has been unable to reclaim the yellow jersey that goes to the winner.
Armstrong rose to the summit of world cycling after surviving a severe case of testicular cancer that nearly killed him. Another victory for him this year would match Spanish superstar Michael Indurain's record of five consecutive Tour de France championships.