By Les Clarke
Nine stages down, and the 92nd edition of the Tour de France is beginning to look like a real race, a la 2003. All the pre-race contenders - Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso and Vinokourov - are looking comfortable near the top of the standings, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. As expected, the shift to higher ground has begun to sort out the contenders from the pretenders, and tomorrow should really see the race for yellow begin.
The high pace of the race so far appears to be taking its toll on the field, with 175 of the original 189 riders remaining, and as the field hits the Alps for stage 10 it's only going to get harder. There have been successful breakaways and drama in the sprints over the past nine days, with Robbie McEwen's relegation in stage 3 handing the initiative in the points competition to Tom Boonen, and Michael Rasmussen's solo break for most of yesterday's stage creating some real interest in the race for the polka dots.
After a dominant opening from Lance Armstrong that had many observers writing off the Tour for the overall prize, the fight for the yellow jersey has been fired up with solo breaks and a hint of weakness from Discovery Channel on stage 8. None of Armstrong's real challengers are more than two minutes away from the Texan.
Click here for the full round-up of the Tour so far.