Alberto Contador of Spain all but won his third Tour de France when he extended his lead over Andy Schleck to 39 seconds following the 52-kilometer individual penultimate stage time trial on Saturday.
Contador held an eight-second advantage over his rival going into the timed stage and a strong finish over the final third of the course put the title in his grasp despite a valiant effort from Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, who is now set to finish runner-up for the second consecutive year.
Sunday's final stage is a 102.5-kilometer ride to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, traditionally a ceremonial parade.
"It's very emotional, it was so very difficult. I trained very hard all year. I kept focused and this was a hard Tour until the last minute," said Contador, who cried when receiving the yellow jersey on the podium.
The Spaniard said he had not been as dominant as last year, when he beat Schleck by more than four minutes.
"There have been a few days in which I did not feel so good. That's the first time a Tour victory gives me so much emotion," the 2007 and 2009 champion said.
Said Schleck: "I gave it my all from start to finish. I tried everything I could to beat Contador. I won two stages and I finished second. I'll return next year to win."
The 39-second gap between the pair was identical to the one obtained amid controversy by the Astana team leader in Monday's 15th stage to Bagneres de Luchon when his Luxembourg rival was hampered by a mechanical fault.
Schleck fought bravely on Saturday and if Contador, who had always comprehensively beaten Schleck in time trials, was expecting a lap of honor in the Bordeaux vineyards, he was mistaken.
Schleck had promised to die on his bike to defend his last yellow jersey chances and he was true to his word for 40 kilometres, even taking some time off the Spaniard in the first 30-kms.
The suspense reached a high after 20-kilometers in the race when Contador's overall lead had been stripped to the bare minimum.
The narrowest gap at the finish in the Champs-Elysees - eight seconds in Greg LeMond's 1989 victory over Laurent Fignon - looked in danger.
But the finale, swept by side-winds that favored power over motivation, was on the Spaniard's side and Schleck gradually lost momentum and was even seen swinging to and fro in exhaustion.
There was a race within the race for third place in the overall classification and Denis Menchov won it easily.
The Russian, third in the Tour in 2008, not only overtook Spain's Samuel Sanchez in the standings, he also did it on the road, also catching Belgium's Jurgen Van den Broeck, who had started six minutes before him.
It was seven-times champion Lance Armstrong last Tour de France time trial, the American finishing 67th in the stage and 23rd overall. He left the scene in a private car with his 10-year-old son Luke.
There was far less suspense for the stage victory as Swiss Fabian Cancellara, the Olympic and world champion, outclassed the rest of the bunch in one hour and 56 seconds.