Lance Armstrong did not quite win his sixth Tour de France at the Plateau de Beille, but most of his rivals lost it after the 13th stage.
Only Italian Ivan Basso, who pipped Armstrong at La Mongie on Friday, stayed with the grinding Texan up the final 15.9 km climb to the summit where Armstrong also won in 2002.
But with the finish in sight the five-times champion cranked up the power to snatch his 17th stage win in the world's most famous cycle race on Saturday.
The fact that he just failed to haul the yellow jersey from gritty young Frenchman Thomas Voeckler will be of little concern to Armstrong, who now trails by just 22 seconds and is poised to move out in front.
Stunned by Armstrong's first strike at La Mongie on Friday, most of the other favourites suffered again on the seven climbs of the 205.5 km stage in the Pyrenees.
German Jan Ullrich, the 1997 champion and Armstrong's main rival on paper, cracked in the final 15.9 km ascent and lost two minutes 42 seconds to go with the two and a half minutes he conceded on the previousstage.
American Tyler Hamilton, fourth overall last year, abandoned after 84km after struggling with a bad back for more than a week.
Spanish hope Iban Mayo, eager to do well in front of the 85,000Basque fans lining the mountain roads, was dropped in the two first category climbs and almost threw in the towel halfway through the Latrape pass.
Aftergetting off his bike he was convinced by his Euskatel team and even by riders from other teams to get back on. However his Tour chances are over.
FormerVuelta winner Roberto Heras, like Hamilton a former close aide to Armstrong, was also dropped as the roads became steeper.
Comfortablyprotected by his U.S. Postal "blue train", Armstrong was content with just setting the pace, skimming the bunch and counting the casualties before finding himself on his own with Basso in the last 10 kilometres.
Thetwo best riders in this Tour, who are good friends off the bike, were seen chatting in the final kilometre and Basso now looks a safe bet for a podium finish in Paris.