On the start line in Pau

Photos from stage 17 of the Tour de France

The atmosphere at the start in Pau was a mix of fear and excited anticipation as the Tour de France got ready for the final mountain stage and the finish at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.

The stage is expected to be the decisive showdown between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck but will also shape the top ten standings and offer a final chance for a rider or team to save a disappointing Tour de France. Today's headline in L'Equipe is 'Le Jeudi de l'Ascension'. The first two pages celebrated the centenary of the Pyrenees in the Tour de France, with the title: 'Sommet du Tour, sommet du siecle' - the summit of the Tour, the summit of the century.

Most riders stayed hidden in the team buses until close to the start, knowing that they probably faced 174km in the rain.

Outside, all team the mechanics were ready for the stage and the wet conditions. They had all fitted their riders' bikes with wet weather wheels and special tyres. The deep section carbon rims were back in the truck and most riders were using medium or shallow section rims. Some were using carbon rims but the Garmin-Transitions team opted for aluminum rims on the bikes for the race and carbon rims on the spare bikes on the roof of the team car.

Tyre pressure was expected to be a vital factor in the race and Cyclingnews spoke to Lampre mechanic Pengo about the pressure he was pumping up the tyres with his battery powered handheld pump. He revealed that the Lampre-Farnese Vini riders usually race with their tyres inflated to 11bar in dry conditions but today the team has opted for a safer 7.5bar to ensure better grip on the wet roads.

Lampre use Vittoria tyres and were using the green side walled tyres often used in the classics. Garmin also use Vittoria but had fitted the all-black Acquagrip tyre. Team Sky was using black veloflex tyres, while BMC and others were using Continental tyres.

Enjoy the photo gallery from the start.

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