The Tour de France reached is climax, both physically and symbolically at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, as the race celebrated the centenary of the Pyrenees in La Grande Boucle.
A stage of the Tour de France finished at the 2,115 metre high summit once before in 1974, climbing from the La Mongie side. However, the Tour de France celebrates the Pyrenees in 2010 by climbing from the much harder Bareges side.
The duel between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck ended with Schleck winning the stage and Contador almost certainly winning the yellow jersey. Yet their legendary summit finish was also the scene of 169 other battles, as all the other riders in peloton fought to finish the stage. Only Simon Spilak (Lampre-Farnese Vini) failed to finish. Everyone else can be proud to have conquered the Col du Tourmalet.
The riders crossed the finish line individually or in little groups. They suddenly appeared through the mist and desperately looked for their team soigneurs. The soigneurs were also looking for them and ran to help them, hold them up, congratulating them on having made it to the finish and then helping them pull on warm clothing.
The riders' faces showed all the pain of the Tour de France and of the long climb to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet. Some were ill and suffering with bronchitis but they had wanted to finish the stage and want to make it to Paris.
Now they face just three more days of racing: Friday's flat stage from Salies-de Bearn to Bordeaux, Saturday's 52km time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac and then the final stage on Sunday to Paris with the finish on the Champs-Élysées.
The mist reduced the visibility to less then a hundred metres but from the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, riders could see Paris.