Alberto Contador was poised to win his second Tour de France after controlling his main rivals in the 167km and penultimate stage to Mont Ventoux on Saturday.
Spain's Juan Manuel Garate won the most prestigious stage of the race on the slopes of the classic Tour climb, which failed to modify the race standings on the eve of the finale in Paris.
Garate won ahead of Germany's Tony Martin who, like him, belonged to a 16-man breakaway which was gone almost from the start in Montelimar.
The pair were the last two survivors from the break not to be caught on the last climb by the leading favourites, who held together until the finish line despite countless attacks by brothers Andy and Frank Schleck.
Andy finished third in the stage, ahead of Tour leader Contador and American Lance Armstrong, who salvaged his podium spot on the gruelling last ascent.
Each time the two Luxembourg riders moved they were immediately reined in by Contador, who maintained his lead of four minutes and 11 seconds over Andy and will most probably win his second Tour on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.
On one of the last strikes by the Schlecks, the 2007 Tour champion even helped his Astana team mate Armstrong bridge the gap and keep his third place.
The seven times Tour winner is 5:24 behind the Spaniard and will likely be back on the final podium for the first time since 2005.
Briton Bradley Wiggins was dropped in the final km of the Ventoux but kept his fourth place overall while Frank Schleck moved up to fifth in the standings.
The Tour finishes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday after a 164.5km ride from Montereau-Fault-Yonne.