Lance Armstrong reclaimed the yellow jersey with a mesmerising display of power which crushed all but a handful of his rivals on stage ten of the Tour de France yesterday.
As has become traditional for Armstrong, the Texan used the first mountain-top finish of the 'Grand Boucle' to stamp his authority on the peloton but, while it was predictable, it was no less impressive.
Only Iles Balears rider Alejandro Valverde was able to stay with Armstrong as far as the finishing line at the Courcheval ski resort and the young Spaniard was ushered through for his first stage win in the Tour.
Valverde was rewarded with a leap up the general classification from 72nd to fifth and, on his way, he passed most of the men who had been expected to challenge Armstrong in his attempt to win a seventh and final Tour.
T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich - 1997 winner and three-time runner-up - is now more than four minutes off the pace and Alexandre Vinokourov - third two years ago - will start today over six minutes adrift.
Meanwhile, Valverde's compatriots Roberto Heras and Iban Mayo are so far behind as to be inconsequential.
Holland's Michael Rasmussen - Sunday's stage winner and currently King of the Mountains - is second, 38 seconds behind Armstrong while the Italian Team CSC rider Ivan Basso remains a threat, just over two minutes further back in third.
Armstrong said it was a "great feeling" to be back in yellow and added: "The team was super, it's very reassuring and we'll just keep it rolling."
The 33-year-old's team were certainly rolling as they set the pace at the front of the peloton from the moment they reached the foot of the Courcheval where the road rises 22.2 kilometres at an average gradient of 6.2 per cent.
The casualties were not long in emerging with Mayo, Heras, Bobby Julich and Santiago Botero spat out of the back of the peloton even before the racing got serious.
Armstrong's Discovery Channel squad were still motoring with their leader looking strong, although Ullrich and Vinokourov were lurking on his wheel. As the American's team stepped up the speed, however, white patches began spreading around the eyes of both TMobile riders before first Vinokourov then Ullrich found themselves drifting away.
An exhausted Vinokourov tried to put on a brave face but it is hard to escape the feeling he will do well just to get on the podium this year.
The Kazakh said: "The last climb, I just completely lost it. That's the race. Maybe tomorrow I will feel better, for now I've just got to recover."
With just Basso, Rasmussen, Valverde and his Iles Balears team-mate Francisco Mancebo for company, Armstrong overtook a breakaway group, including the 38-yearold 1997 world champion Laurent Brochard, which had attacked with just six kilometres of the 181km stage gone.
Basso was dropped before the summit which meant a straight fight between the 25-year-old Valverde and Armstrong for the stage win.