TARBES, France – As the midway point of the Tour de France closes in, the eventual outcome remains a mystery.
Despite more than a week passed and more than 800 miles covered, much of the plot of this year's race is yet to unravel.
Lance Armstrong believes it may all boil down to the penultimate stage on Mont Ventoux and it is hard to argue with his logic.
Here we take a look at the key questions of the Tour and where things stand so far.
1. Can Armstrong win it?
This was the biggest “if” before the start of the event and many cycling experts were resoundingly negative about the Texan's chances.
First, there was his poor form in the Giro d'Italia, where he positioned 12th and was often left in the wake of the leading contenders.
Then there was the specter of his three-year absence from the world of pro cycling, an exile which many believed impossible to overcome.
Yet Armstrong has been solid and consistent in the early stages and is most certainly in the hunt at this point, with teammate Alberto Contador the only man who can realistically deny him glory.
He might be finding some days tougher than in the past, but there can no longer be any doubt that he has the ability and resources to secure No. 8 if things go his way.
2. Will he win it?
Contador is a magnificent climber and should be too strong when the course heads to the Alps.
The Spaniard has already given a display of his power with the manner in which he pulled away towards the end of the stage towards Andorra Arcalis – and no one could go with him.
The 40 seconds Armstrong picked up when windy conditions busted open the peloton on the flat stage into La Grande Motte could yet prove invaluable.
If not for that time gap, Contador would be almost impossible to beat and would have the sole support of the Astana management.
3. Can Armstrong and Contador co-exist?
The concept of joint team leaders is not a common one in cycling, and for good reason.
Astana has been mightily dominant so far but it would be naïve to suggest this is a completely happy camp.
Indeed, Armstrong has admitted to tension within the ranks, unsurprising given that when two superstar riders both desperate to win are thrust together, something has to give.
4. Will the race once again be marred by doping?
The 2008 Tour was engulfed in scandal as doping test after doping test came in positive.
Several stage victories were annulled due to drug revelations but so far this year has not provided a single positive test.
It remains to be seen whether the cyclists are simply one step ahead of the testers or if the sport really has cleaned up its act.
The testing has been constant, with specific riders deliberately targeted for extra scrutiny.
Armstrong has lost count of the number of times his hair, blood and urine have been examined, with two tests in a single day midway through last week.
5. Does the Tour still matter?
Repeated doping disasters have damaged the reputation of cycling's chief event and a year ago many wondered if the Tour could ever recover.
However, Armstrong's return has helped ignite interest and his battle with Contador has created plenty of focus for the right reasons.
The magnificent crowds which lined the route from Andorra La Vella to St Girons and all through the Pyrenees were a joy to behold and show the fans will still come to see this wonderful spectacle.
Cycling's tough times may not have ended, but the sport is putting up a good fight.
- Alberto Contador
- Tour de France