Richard Virenque won the 10th stage of the Tour de France, the longest stage of the 2004 race at 237km.
The French favourite finished five minutes 19 seconds clear to give the locals a Bastille Day to remember after a gruelling ride in the Massif Central.
In the process he took over the King of the Mountains jersey and made inroads into Thomas Voeckler's overall lead.
But his compatriot, who came home in the main group with Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich, remains in yellow.
Virenque broke off the front of the peloton after 35km and spent much of the day at the head of the race with Belgium's Axel Merckx.
The biggest margin the pair opened up on the field was 10:48, but come the Col du Pas de Peyrol, a first category climb and the race's first major ascent, Merckx cracked and Virenque went on alone.
The Quick Step-Davitamon team leader, who maintained a fierce tempo as he closed in on a seventh Tour stage win, received a rapturous reception when he rode into Saint-Flour after 6:00.24 in the saddle.
The victory was France's 14th on Bastille Day since the war and the first since Laurent Jalabert's 2001 win.
Virenque, who is going for a record seventh King of the Mountains victory, won all nine climbs in the day, taking 68 points to move 16 points clear in the polka dot jersey.
Andreas Kloden led the peloton home in a sprint for second ahead of T-Mobile team-mate Erik Zabel.
Voeckler was to the fore in the final sprint to add to the sense of French celebration at the finish, crossing the line in fifth, just ahead of Armstrong.
Ullrich came home in the main group, but Tyler Hamilton lost a further seven seconds in the day's closing stages.
Merckx trailed in after the first group of riders, 6:18 down following his earlier exertions. The second group crossed the line 24:14 after Virenque.
Race leader Voeckler extended his advantage over second-placed Stuart O'Grady to three, with Armstrong 9:35 back in sixth.
Virenque's heroics saw him shoot up the rankings to fourth, 6:52 off the lead.
After their efforts from Limoges to Saint-Fleur, the riders will enjoy an easier stage on Thursday to Figeac.