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On the start line in Pau

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The HTC-Columbia bikes were kept out of the rain.

The HTC-Columbia bikes were kept out of the rain.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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The Lapierre bikes ready for the Francaise des Jeux riders.

The Lapierre bikes ready for the Francaise des Jeux riders.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has a custom decorated Canyon bike.

Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has a custom decorated Canyon bike.
(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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George Hincapie's BMC Impec bike.

George Hincapie's BMC Impec bike.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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BMC are using Continental wet tyres for today's stage.

BMC are using Continental wet tyres for today's stage.
(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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The start of the last mountain stage was held in Pau.

The start of the last mountain stage was held in Pau.
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Former riders Jo Planckaert and Wim Vansevenant seem to show the signs of fatigue.

Former riders Jo Planckaert and Wim Vansevenant seem to show the signs of fatigue.
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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Nico Mattan talks with Bouygues Telecom.

Nico Mattan talks with Bouygues Telecom.
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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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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Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) again worked hard for Contador

Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) again worked hard for Contador
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Will Cyclingnews reporter Brecht Decaluwé be in yellow in Paris?

Will Cyclingnews reporter Brecht Decaluwé be in yellow in Paris?
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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This stuntman entertained the crowd before the start in Pau.

This stuntman entertained the crowd before the start in Pau.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Will Alberto Contador add the 2010 Tour to his palmares?

Will Alberto Contador add the 2010 Tour to his palmares?
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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There are huge posters of the Tour winners in the start village.

There are huge posters of the Tour winners in the start village.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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The Look bikes await the Cofidis riders.

The Look bikes await the Cofidis riders.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Thanks Lance.

Thanks Lance.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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The Wilier Triestina bikes where fitted with wet weather tyres.

The Wilier Triestina bikes where fitted with wet weather tyres.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Lampre mechanic Pengo told Cyclingnews he was putting 7.5bar in the tyres instead of the usual 11.

Lampre mechanic Pengo told Cyclingnews he was putting 7.5bar in the tyres instead of the usual 11.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Garmin-Transitions are using low-profile rims.

Garmin-Transitions are using low-profile rims.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Mechanic Geoff Brown watches over the Felt team bikes.

Mechanic Geoff Brown watches over the Felt team bikes.
(Image credit: Stephen Farrand)
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Garmin-Transitions are using the special Vittoria Aquagrip tyres.

Garmin-Transitions are using the special Vittoria Aquagrip tyres.
(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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Some riders might have taken a side trip to Lourdes to pray for a good end of their Tour.

Some riders might have taken a side trip to Lourdes to pray for a good end of their Tour.
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)

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.