Plaza Takes Stage 16 of Tour de France
Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) has won Stage 16 of the Tour de France. The Spanish veteran surged away from a daylong break to win the rugged, 201-km ride from Bourg-de-Peage to Gap in 4:30:10. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) finished second at 0:30, and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) finished third at 0:36. Chris Froome (Sky) remains the maillot jaune.
The hostilities began early. At the start, 29 riders sallied off of the front. Eventually, the break split into two groups. The first group consisted of Andriy Grivko (Astana), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Marco Haller (Katusha), Bob Jungels (Trek), Nelson Oliveira and Plaza (both from Lampre-Merida), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), and Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), while Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), Michal Golas and Matteo Trentin (both from Etixx-Quick Step), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Laurent Didier and Markel Irizar (Trek), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Pantano (IAM Cycling), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), and Edvald Boasson-Hagen and Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) were in the second.
Sagan took the intermediate sprint at 86.5 km, and the break accelerated. Didier fell off of the pace, but the two groups merged at 105 km. The break’s lead ballooned to 13:00 at the summit of the Category 2 Col de Cabre (130 km). In the peloton, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) crashed and injured his left knee.
On the descent, Sagan paced the group. With 50 km remaining, the attacks began. Ten km later, Hansen attacked and Austrian road race champion Haller joined him. With 35 km left, the pair led their erstwhile companions by 0:36 and the peloton by 16:50.
At the base of the Category 2 Col de Manse, Haller and Hansen led the chase group by nearly two minutes and the bunch by twenty. Geschke attacked from the chase group, and Sagan, Riblon, Teklehaimanot, and Plaza joined him. Riblon attempted to bridge up to the two leaders, and Plaza countered. Voeckler, De Gendt, Jungel, Mate, and Pantano joined the chase group. At the summit, Plaza led the chasers by a little more than a minute. Behind, Tinkoff-Saxo Bank led the peloton.
On the descent, Sagan set out after Plaza. With 10 km to go, the Spaniard led the Slovak by 0:56, but Sagan kept coming. He ran out of road, however, and finished 0:36 after Plaza. Behind, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) attacked Froome on the ascent, but the Sky man and his team brought the Spaniard back. On the descent, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) got clear and forged a half-minute lead, which he held to the finish. Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) overcooked a turn and collided with Geraint Thomas (Sky). The Welshman sailed off of the road and down a ravine, striking his head against a telephone pole as he went. Amazingly, Thomas was uninjured and finished the stage only 0:40 behind the maillot jaune group.
Lampre-Merida suffered the loss of captain Rui Costa. This necessitated a change of goals from the GC to winning stages. Plaza accomplished the latter and was elated to have done so. “It’s such an exciting victory, such a great success,” the Spaniard said. “This triumph gives happiness to the team and to me. In this Tour de France, we have been unlucky and we suffered for the withdrawal of our captain Rui Costa, who won here two years ago. We tried hard to hit an important target, we did not give up and we made a lot of attempts attacking or fighting in the sprints. Today we achieved our goal.
“It’s always so difficult to win in the Tour de France, but today everything was in its right place and I added my good legs and my fighting spirit. I put everything in the attack on the Col de Manse and in the descent I tried to keep my mind well focused on the road.
“In my career I had obtained 22 victories, but today the feelings are so special.”
According to Froome, Sky had a good day but one that could have turned bad. Thomas crashed but was not seriously injured, and Peter Kennaugh, who has been ill, abandoned. "I did hear on the radio that [Thomas] had been caught in a crash behind,” the maillot jaune said. “At that point I was just trying to say to the guys around me 'listen there's been a crash let's just try and keep the race steady for now.' But obviously only a few km before the finish the guys wanted to go hard.
"It's really unfortunate for us to lose Pete Kennaugh at this point. He's a big part of the team but he's had a tough couple of days with illness. I hope he recovers soon. It means we're going to have to share the work between the eight riders but the guys are strong and I've got a lot of confidence in them.
"Beyond that I think it's been a pretty good day for us. We saw the other GC teams trying today. Tinkoff-Saxo took the race on at the foot of the last climb. We saw attacks over the top and Vincenzo Nibali going for it. I think that's definitely what we can expect these next two days in the Alps. The race certainly isn't over yet. We're going to have try and keep control of the race and hope we can keep the lead until Paris."
In the overall, Froome leads Nairo Quintana (Sky) by 3:10 and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) by 3:32. Tomorrow will be the Tour’s second rest day. The race will resume on Wednesday, with Stage 17 taking the riders 161 km from Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup. The riders will go over two Category 3 climbs before taking on the Category 2 Col de la Colle, the Category 1 Col d’Allos, and the Category 2 ascent to the finish. Barguil won on this same route in Stage 5 of the Dauphine Libere. Will he win again? Will Nibali win? Froome? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!