- Tour de France, Stage 16
Costa wins as Froome swerves disaster
Rui Alberto Costa claimed the second Tour de France stage win of his career as race leader Chris Froome avoided a potential disaster of Alberto Contador's making late in the stage to maintain his four-minute cushion at the top of the standings.
The 168km route from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap offered the last respite of the remaining competitive stages, with the yellow jersey contenders always unlikely to attempt any drastic attacks with four tough days' racing ahead of the Paris finale - but that did not prevent Contador from nearly causing a crash after a risky descent in a bid to lose his Team Sky rival.
With their reduced numbers limiting their options, Team Sky decided to monitor race leader Froome's rivals rather than attempting to stay in touch with the 26-strong break, which opened up a five-minute lead on the peloton after 42km.
Two-time former champion Contador was left to probe for an opening, testing Froome and Richie Porte with a series of small sprints, all quickly marked by the Team Sky duo, who will hope that Froome can put further distance between himself and the field in tomorrow's time trial.
At the front, Costa found himself tussling with road race world champion Philippe Gilbert, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler and Ireland's Nicolas Roche, while the peloton found themselves halted by a train at a level crossing for 40 seconds.
Jean Marc Marino and Blel Kadri attempted to break clear of the leaders with 27km to go, opening up a 24-second lead, but they were back with the pack when Costa mounted his solo bid with 17km remaining.
The Spaniard quickly opened up a 20-second cushion ascending the Col de Manse as the chasing pack were slow to respond. Daniel Navarro and Andreas Kloden did what they could to close the gap with Gilbert and Voeckler in tow, but the Frenchman's big push to catch the Portuguese came up short near the summit of the final climb of the stage.
Costa began his descent with a 49-second lead that would prove decisive, while back in the peloton Froome and Contador's game of cat and mouse nearly ended in disaster and might have opened the door for Dutchman Bauke Mollema.
Contador picked a poor line on the descent of the Manse and led the Briton into the roadside gravel, forcing Froome off the road while crashing in front of him.
Respecting the Tour's traditions, Mollema waited for his rivals before racing to the line with them. They finished 11 minutes behind Costa, who was followed over the line by French duo Christophe Riblon and Arnold Jeannesson. Voeckler, Gilbert and Roche missed out on top-five finishes.
"It was quite a dangerous descent but I think that Alberto Contador was a little careless to attack like that round the corners," Froome said. "He went off in front of me and I had to go off and unclip.
"Fortunately I had Richie Porte with me. He covered about 10 of their attacks today - he is a real gem of a rider and a person.
"There is never a quiet day on the Tour - if they are not attacking on the climbs, they are attacking on the descents."
Stage 16 result
1. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team 3:52:45
2. Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +0:00:42
3. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ.fr
4. Jerome Coppel (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
5. Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack Leopard
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Argos-Shimano +0:01:00
7. Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi +0:01:01
8. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team +0:01:04
9. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
10. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin-Sharp
General classification after stage 16
1. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 65:15:36
2. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +0:04:14
3. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:04:25
4. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:04:28
5. Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team +0:05:47
6. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +0:05:54
7. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:07:11
8. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:07:22
9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +0:08:47
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp +0:09:28