Lance Armstrong crushed his rivals in the final time trial to all but clinch his sixth-straight Tour de France.
With only Sunday's "procession" leg to Paris left, the 32-year-old American just needs to stay on his bike to set a new record for overall Tour victories.
Armstrong clocked one hour, six minutes and 49 seconds over the 55km course to beat Jan Ullrich by more than a minute.
Germany's Andreas Kloden finished third to move into second ahead of Italian Ivan Basso, who hung onto third.
Before the stage, there had been talk that both T-Mobile team-mates Kloden and Ullrich would pass Basso in the overall classification.
But Basso dug deep to deny Ullrich by recording the sixth-fastest time.
Kloden was delighted with his performance but struggled to put into words just what his achievement meant to him.
"It's still difficult to say how I feel because it still hasn't sunk in," he said.
"I'll probably need a couple of days before I manage to understand what it means but tonight I'm going to switch off my mobile phone and saviour the moment."
Basso refused to be too downcast after dropping to third.
"I'm disappointed for my team and for myself but I'm still happy to finish on the Tour podium, being able to climb on the podium in Paris is the most important thing," he said.
"I tried to do the time trial at 100%, without making any calculations and about thinking how well Kloden was doing.
"It turned out that I lost second place but there was nothing I could do about it.
"Kloden is a time trial specialist and went strong from the start. He did a good time trial, I did a good time trial but it wasn't enough."
The day, however, belonged to the irrepresible Armstrong, who won his fifth stage of the 2004 Tour.
The Texan almost caught tiring Basso - who had started three minutes before him - but had to settle for his second-straight time trial win, following the L'Alpe d'Huez leg on Wednesday.
"I started fast right out of the blocks. I felt good," Armstrong said.
"I've done a lot of work on my position, and worked with engineers in wind tunnels. But there's also the equipment, the bike, the helmet."
Meanwhile, young rider Vladimir Karpets finished eighth to take the white jersey from long-time leader Thomas Voeckler.
That competition is now over, but the battle for the sprinters' green jersey will be resolved on the Champs Elysees.