Alberto Contador of Spain virtually secured his second Tour de France crown after the race’s 20th and penultimate stage won by Spaniard Juan Manuel Garate on Saturday.
On the third and final summit of the race the 2007 champion proved imperial as his main rival Andy Schleck, of Saxo Bank, launched a series of attacks with his brother Frank on the 21.1km climb to the legendary summit of Mont Ventoux.
Schleck began the day in second overall at 4min 11sec behind Contador and despite his efforts he will go into Sunday’s final stage to Paris with the same deficit after finishing nearly 40secs behind Garate with Contador.
American seven-time champion Lance Armstrong finished just behind in fifth place at 41sec behind Garate meaning he will go into Sunday’s 21st stage virtually assured of finishing on the podium for the top three.
Schleck is second overall at 4:11 while Armstrong is third on 5:24.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins should finish fourth overall at 6:01.
Garate had been part of an earlier breakaway and rode most of the race’s final climb in the company of German Tony Martin.
The former Spanish champion attacked once, was caught as he slowed down, but then launched another more decisive attack a few hundred metres from the summit to leave Martin down in second place.
Having started the day with a huge lead on Andy Schleck, Contador said his task was simple.
“All I had to do was control Andy Schleck. He tried several times to attack, it was a good day for him but I was on a good day as well,” said 2007 champion Contador, who admitted that it had not been an easy Tour for him.
“This was a very difficult Tour. Even though it looks easy for the spectators, quite a few times I had doubts whether I would win or not.”
It was an incisive attack by the 24-year-old Luxemburger Andy Schleck around 12km from the summit which proved decisive for the outcome of the stage.