Floyd Landis is Eddy Merckx's unoriginal pick to win this year's Tour de France - and today the Belgian great will find out if the American is the real deal.
The 187-kilometre stage from Gap into the Alps, finishing with an ascent of the infamous Alpe d'Huez, ought to go a long way to deciding the 2006 race.
Known simply as "the Alpe", the 14km climb at a gradient of almost eight per cent through 21 needle-sharp switchbacks has made champions and broken pretenders in the 54 years since it first featured on the Tour.
Lance Armstrong won twice on the Alpe on his way to a record seven Tours.
On 20 of the 25 occasions the mountain finish has featured in the Tour route, the man who reached the summit in yellow also topped the podium in Paris at the end of the world-famous race.
Landis must reclaim the yellow jersey from race leader Oscar Pereiro, who holds a one-minute, 29-second lead over the Phonak rider, as well as hold off challenges from the likes of Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre if he is to maintain the American dominance of the Tour.
Merckx is confident the 30-year-old from Pennsylvania has what it takes to not only survive but prosper.
"He is very good in the mountains," said Merckx, the five-time Tour winner.
"He is a good time-trial rider. In the last week that is what we will have: climbing and the time trial."
There has been speculation Landis perhaps made a mis-take in relinquishing the yellow jersey on Saturday's stage when Spaniard Pereiro's half-hour winning margin earned him the race leadership.
But the Phonak rider said: "As long as I have it in Paris, even if I haven't won any stages, that will be fine. I am definitely confident."
Landis, Armstrong's teammate for three years, is a
determined character - a quality he learned at a young age.
His family are Mennonites, a Christian sect which advocates pacifism and simple living while frowning on dancing, immodest clothing - i.e., no Lycra - and sport.
As a 15-year-old, Landis lived on his mountain-bike, so
his father tried to discourage him by giving him longer and longer lists of chores.
But Landis won the battle of wills - choosing to ride late in the evening and even the early hours of the morning.
A more serious threat to his life as a cyclist is a hip injury which he sustained when he smashed the top of his femur in
a crash in January 2003. The injury has not properly healed, and he needs a hip replacement - the success of which will determine whether he can continue racing.
He is in pain every minute that he spends in the saddle but insists his performance is not affected.
"Whatever happens, I do my best to try to focus on the race itself rather than my hip - and the race, in a way, is therapy for my hip because it consumes everything I think about," he said.
Meanwhile, former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich says he is innocent of any doping allegations made against him, until proven guilty.
"As in any country subject to the rule of law, the until-proven-guilty standard applies not only to me but to every other person, too," the German said in a statement yesterday.
Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997, was suspended by his T-Mobile team, along with team-mate Oscar Sevilla and sporting director Rudy Pevenage on the eve of this year's race after being implicated in a Spanish doping scandal.