Ahhh, du Galibier. Switchback after switchback of asphalt hell. Hell if you're on a bike, but heaven if you're watching the world's best cyclists do the work. For 18 kilometers, a ribbon of pain and lactic acid wobbles and weaves its way up the grotesque, treeless slopes of the great French kingmaker.

Yesterday in Stage 9, between Val-d'lsere and Briancon, the boys on the bikes rolled themselves up not only les col du Galibier and du telegraphe, but also the Beyond Category (HC)-rated Col de l'Iseran climb. Three rated climbs, 159.5 kilometers, more than 4 hours. Lots and lots of opportunities for General Classification (GC) contenders to attack and try to put time into their rivals.

Judgement day.

The peloton was between a rock and a steep place on du Galibier in Stage 9. Photo from cyclingnews.com.

Team Discovery Channel set the tone early by sending Yaroslav "Popo" Popovych out ahead of the peloton on the l'Iseran. Popo went boldly over the top alone ahead of the field, grabbing a bit of Alpine glory for himself and forcing team Rabobank to make a heavy tempo in support of Mickael "The Chicken" Rasmussen in the yellow jersey.

Popo's break was just the start of a heavy day of sprinting and bridging. Edgy with anticipation of the unknown and the knowledge of imminent glory, a cluster of GC favorites and their primary domestiques surged off the front of the main peloton on du telegraphe and spent the rest of the stage dueling with each other in wave upon wave of darting attacks and inspired regroups.

One of the boldest moves of the day -- and the most successful -- was Juan Mauricio Soler's breakout at the foot of du Galibier. After resting up in the peloton for the climb over du telegraphe, Soler leapt out of the field just past the village of St.-Michel-de-Maurienne and easily gapped up to Popo's six-man breakaway. Popo's pod nearly got whiplash watching Soler blow by them like their tires were made of bubble gum.