Armstrong out-sprinted Italian Ivan Basso, his last real challenger after two weeks of punishing racing, to take his second stage victory in the 2004 Tour and the 18th of his illustrious career. He also has won two team time trials with his U.S. Postal Squad.
Behind Basso was Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion whose challenge fizzled Friday and Saturday in the Pyrenees. There, Armstrong demolished his rivals with dominant displays of climbing, all but clearing his path to the podium in Paris next Sunday.
Armstrong took the overall leader's yellow jersey from Thomas Voeckler, the resilient French champion who finally fell prey to the 32-year-old Texan having bravely and narrowly defended his lead in the Pyrenees. There, Armstrong whittled Voeckler's lead down to 22 seconds — from more than nine minutes before the mountains.
Voeckler, 25, buckled in the heat and on the climbs of the 112-mile stage from Valreas to Villard-de-Lans on Tuesday.
Armstrong now has 61 yellow jerseys in his Tour career. He also wore yellow for one day after the team time trial on July 7, where his U.S. Postal Squad won for a second straight year, but ceded the lead to Voeckler the next day.
Bonus seconds earned by Armstrong for winning Tuesday's stage extended his overall lead on Basso to 1 minute and 25 seconds. If he can hold that advantage for two more days in the Alps and in a time trial on Saturday, Armstrong will pedal into the history books when the three-week cycling marathon ends on the crowd-packed Champs-Elysees on Sunday.
Ullrich, left behind by Armstrong's final burst of speed, was three seconds slower than the Texan and Basso, who finished in the same time. Armstrong pumped his fists as he crossed the line.
Andreas Kloden, Ullrich's teammate, looks headed for the third spot on the podium in Paris. He is third in the overall standings, 3:22 behind Armstrong. He placed fourth Tuesday's stage, six seconds behind Armstrong.
Riders faced some of the hottest temperatures yet, with the mercury climbing as high as 86 Fahrenheit. The stage included seven climbs.