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On the finish line of the Col du Tourmalet

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Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) finished fourth on the stage and climbed to eighth overall.

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) finished fourth on the stage and climbed to eighth overall.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) heads to the podium.

Alberto Contador (Astana) heads to the podium.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) was in the break of the day.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) was in the break of the day.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia)

Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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The largely Spanish crowd at the finish cheered for Contador and Schleck.

The largely Spanish crowd at the finish cheered for Contador and Schleck.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Footon-Servetto riders get warm clothes from their soigneur.

Footon-Servetto riders get warm clothes from their soigneur.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Yukiya Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)

Yukiya Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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A tired looking Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) finished 30 minutes behind Schleck but kept the green points jersey.

A tired looking Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) finished 30 minutes behind Schleck but kept the green points jersey.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) made it to the summit finish and can look forward to possible sprints in Bordeaux and Paris.

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) made it to the summit finish and can look forward to possible sprints in Bordeaux and Paris.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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An ill and injured David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) finished next to last at 32:47 but should now be able to make to Paris.

An ill and injured David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) finished next to last at 32:47 but should now be able to make to Paris.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gets some help after the finish

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gets some help after the finish
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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The finish at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet was packed with fans, team staff and media

The finish at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet was packed with fans, team staff and media
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Andreas Kloden (RadioShack)

Andreas Kloden (RadioShack)
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Lance Armstrong (RadioShack)

Lance Armstrong (RadioShack)
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) heads to the podium to say hello to French president Nicolas Sarkozy

Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) heads to the podium to say hello to French president Nicolas Sarkozy
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed early in the stage but kept third place overall.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed early in the stage but kept third place overall.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Chris Horner (RadioShack) was eighth on the stage and moved up to tenth overall.

Chris Horner (RadioShack) was eighth on the stage and moved up to tenth overall.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Alberto Contador (Astana)

Alberto Contador (Astana)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) has the consolation of winning the best young rider's white jersey.

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) has the consolation of winning the best young rider's white jersey.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the summit of the Tourmalet.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the summit of the Tourmalet.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin - Transitions)

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin - Transitions)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) got changed after finishing 12th on the stage.

Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) got changed after finishing 12th on the stage.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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The fatigue on Thomas Löfkvist's face says it all.

The fatigue on Thomas Löfkvist's face says it all.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Swiss national champion Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Swiss national champion Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Remy Di Gregorio (Francaise des Jeux)

Remy Di Gregorio (Francaise des Jeux)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Transitions)

Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Transitions)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Damien Monier (Cofidis)

Damien Monier (Cofidis)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) got changed at the summit.

Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) got changed at the summit.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Cadel Evans (BMC) finished 12 minutes behind Schleck and Contador.

Cadel Evans (BMC) finished 12 minutes behind Schleck and Contador.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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US national champion George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team)

US national champion George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)

Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)

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.