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Rui Costa (Movistar) attacked his way to the stage 16 victory at the Tour de France in Gap on Tuesday. The Portuguese Tour de Suisse champion attacked on the final climb, the Cat. 2 Col de Manse, to distance the day’s long breakaway and solo to his second career stage win at the Tour.
Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) won a four-up sprint for second, 42 seconds behind Costa. Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ.fr) was third in the 168-kilometer leg from Vaison la Romaine to Gap.
“This means a lot,” said Costa. “I have worked hard to be ready for this Tour. I lost a lot of time the same day that [Alejandro] Valverde did, so I had to change the idea about this Tour. It was a good stage for a breakaway. It was a big fight to get into the move, but once we pulled clear, I was feeling good. It helps take away from the disappointment. It’s important for me and for the team. We were looking for a stage victory during this Tour. Now that we have one, we can be more tranquil going into the Alps.”
After a mishap on the descent to Gap, Chris Froome (Sky) finished in the group with his top overall rivals to defend the yellow jersey ahead of Wednesday’s stage 17 individual time trial. Froome was held up when Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) crashed in front of him, but the pair did not lose time when their rivals waited for them.
An unwieldy breakaway forces itself free
After an extremely aggressive first hour, which saw a 31-man breakaway form over the day’s first rated climb, the Cat. 3 Côte de la Montagne and then fall apart, the day’s long escape formed with 26 riders: Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol); Philippe Gilbert and Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing), Laurent Didier, Tony Gallopin, and Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Leopard); Cyril Gautier and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar); Blel Kadri and Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale); Nicolas Roche (Saxo); Yuri Trofimov (Katusha); Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Jerôme Coppel and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis); Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida); Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp); Michael Albasini and Christian Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge); Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano); Thomas De Gendt and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM); Jean Marc Marino (Sojasun); Jeannesson (FDJ.fr); and Costa.
Navarro was the top man in the escape as far as the overall standings were concerned, and at 23:36 behind Froome, the peloton was happy to let the group ride away. The long, moderately uphill approach to the final climb, the Cat. 2 Col de Manse set up what everyone expected would be an explosive finale for the stage win.
Kadri and Marino weren’t interested in arriving to the Manse with the 26-man breakaway. The French pair attacked with 33km to go and pulled out a 12-second advantage.
With 30km to go, the peloton was 10:45 behind the leaders.
The two leaders rode onto the climb with a lead of over 20 seconds and held fast to it with 20km to go. Behind them, the breakaway fell apart.
Hansen and Dumoulin tried to bridge across. That acceleration dropped Quinziato.
Costa jumped as well, soon joined by Coppel.
“Well, I had to be very attentive on that last climb, watching the others,” said Costa. “I felt it was the right place to go, I knew how much further it was to the top, and I knew that if I got to the top, I had a good chance to stay away.”
Voeckler, Didier, and Astarloza dropped off the pace.
Costa and Coppel rode past the leaders, but the Frenchman could not hold the pace. Costa was soon alone at the front of the race and with 17km to go, he had 23 seconds. It was all he would need.
“I know the guy is going well. I felt sure that he would make an attack,” said Coppel. “I tried to go with him and initially we went together, but Costa was too strong. It wasn’t possible to go with him.”
Klöden, Jeannesson, Riblon, and Coppel formed a chase group with Roche, but the Irishman, who led a lot of the chasing earlier on the climb, lost contact.
Behind them, Gilbert found trouble and pinned himself to the back of the second chase group, which also included Velits, Gautier, Trofimov, Dumoulin, Gallopin, Albasini, and a resurgent Voeckler.
With 14.3km to go, Voeckler jumped to try and bridge across to the front chase group. The Frenchman was going nowhere, however.
Up ahead, Costa swayed over his handlebars and pushed out to a 48-second advantage as he approached the summit.
Froome, Porte defend on Manse
Back in the peloton, Saxo lit the fuse and thinned the group to just eight riders: Froome and teammate Richie Porte; second overall Bauke Mollema (Belkin); third overall Contador and and fourth overall Roman Kreuziger (Saxo); best young rider Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar); and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
Fifth overall Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) couldn’t hold on and was distanced along with seventh overall Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and ninth overall Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) were both further back.
Just as he did in 2011, Contador attacked on the Manse climb. Porte drew him back and Kreuziger took up the pace making. Contador jumped again with 6.2km to go, again forcing Porte to chase.
“It made sense that they were going to attack there,” said Porte. “It was a hard start and we expected that they would try on the climb and on the descent.”
Costa took 50 seconds over the summit and began the high-speed descent to Gap. Riblon attacked from the chase group high up on the descent, but couldn’t shake Klöden and Co.
For his part, Contador couldn’t shake Froome’s super domestique back on the climb and returned to the group. The Spaniard waited for 90 seconds and attacked again. That acceleration dropped Porte, forcing Froome to chase. When the maillot jaune shut down that attack, Kreuziger countered.
Costa reached the flat, final 5km into gap with a lead of 48 seconds.
“On the descent, it was difficult to reduce the gap because it was just so fast,” said Coppel. “I was just trying to think of second place, because I knew we couldn’t catch Costa …”
Back in the yellow jersey group, Froome closed on Kreuziger and Porte caught onto the group. Mollema held tight on the back of the group, appearing to be in trouble.
“Yeah, it was of course pretty painful, but I felt good,” said Mollema. “The climb was not hard enough to drop Froome or to drop me; it was on the big ring most of the time, so I was never in big problems.”
The GC race was hot, but the stage was far from doubt. Costa celebrated in front of the TV camera as he approached the finish. Pumping his fist, he crossed the line for the victory.
“This is one of my most important victories of my career,” said Costa. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It’s my second win at the Tour de France and it’s very good for me and the team.”
The yellow jersey group flew down the descent under pressure from Contador. Froome clung to the Spaniard’s wheel, but disaster struck when Contador missed the line on a tight, right-hand corner.
“There was some loose asphalt there and I lost the wheel and slid out,” said Contador. “The most important was to get up as fast as possible to not lose time.”
The pair came to a stop, Mollema and the rest of the group cruising toward the line. Afterward, Contador said he had injured a hand and hoped that it would improve after icing.
“Alberto and Kreuziger took a lot of risks on the descent,” said Froome. “Alberto crashed just in front in me. I did not crash. I just laid down the bike, but Richie Porte helped me to chase. It was too dangerous for Contador do it like that. He attacked on the climb, attacked on the descent. It’s much too difficult.”
A day after saying that second and 10th overall are the same to him, Contador said he would not stop attacking in this Tour.
“To go on calmly on the wheels in the peloton is never a big motivation for me,” he said. “You have to keep fighting, whether it’s the start or the end of the race. … We’ll see what the result is in Paris.”
Porte stopped to pull the maillot jaune and the trio set off on a mad chase of their former companions. Porte aced the descent, cutting into what appeared to be a half-minute gap over 2km.
Up ahead, Quintana was among the riders urging the group to wait for the yellow jersey.
“We saw Contador slide out and we saw the yellow jersey in trouble because of that misfortune, so we slacked off a little,” said Quintana.
Contador clung to the wheel of Froome, who gingerly made his way through the tight, uneven corners of the descent that was the infamous site of Joséba Beloki’s leg-breaking crash and Lance Armstrong’s cross-country shortcut in the 2003 Tour.
The three chasers were back on terms with 1.5km to go and the group came through the line together, Rodríguez leading the way.
Ten Dam, Fuglsang, and Peraud rode to the line with Evans, Andrew Talansky (Garmin), and four others, one minute down on the Froome group. With the gap, the Dutchman dropped to sixth overall, with Quintana climbing the GC to fifth, at 5:47.
Froome leads Mollema by 4:14 ahead of Wednesday’s climbing time trial. Contador is third overall, at 4:25. The race’s 17th stage features two Cat. 2 climbs — the Côte de Puy-Sanières (6.5km at six percent) and the Côte de Réallon (6.9km at 6.3 percent) — in the 32km between Embrun and Chorges.