Rui Costa (Movistar) launched a defiant individual break on the final climb of a demanding 168km stage from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap to win stage 16 of the 2013 Tour de France.
Having been part of a large breakaway group for much of the race, the two-time Tour de Suisse winner timed his attack to perfection to crest the summit of the Col de Manse alone and race to victory on the pacey descent into Gap.
The Portuguese rider, who had been in the top ten of the general classification until sacrificing himself to help team leader Alejandro Valverde last week, finished 42 seconds clear of second-placed Christophe Riblon.
Further back, yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) and rival Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) avoided a late scare, where both misjudged a bend on the descent, to finish together in a group that also included Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
As the centenary Tour entered its final week, 179 riders started the stage in Vaison-La-Romaine – 19-year-old Danny van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) the latest to abandon.
With the stage looking likely to suit a break before the race began, there was no shortage of riders looking to form an escape.
Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Costa were among an original group of 20 riders to attack from the starting flag.
More riders soon joined, with several counter-attacks forming, as former yellow jersey wearer, Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard), the winner of stage two, and Europcar leader, Thomas Voeckler, last year’s King of the Mountains, also bridging.
The large escape group climbed the category three Cote de la Montagne de Bluye, with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Leopard) taking the points on offer at the summit.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and stage nine winner Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) also joined the escape at one point, as counter-attacks continued to form all over the road.
Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Leopard) attacked off the front of the break before the remaining escapees were caught at the 29km start.
More counter-attacking groups continued to form however as the frantic start to the stage continued before 23 riders, including Costa, Voeckler and world road race champion, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), joined Hansen and Kloden at the front.
With the peloton beginning to settle, the escape finally broke well clear and built up an advantage of more than five minutes with Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) putting in a big shift at the front.
Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ) bridged to join the break just as they began to climb the category two Col de Macuegne and the lead grew by a further two minutes.
Hoogerland crossed the summit first to collect the maximise five points on offer, with Didier, Jerome Coppel (Cofidis) and Kloden following him over.
Sky, with Chris Froome among them, led the peloton while all the other jersey wearers were also back in the bunch.
With no GC contenders in the break, they were allowed to remain around a steady 7’30” clear of the peloton.
Their lead was extended further when the peloton was briefly held at a level crossing, growing to more than eight minutes, with the Orica-GreenEDGE duo of Michael Albasini and Cameron Meyer leading the way.
RadioShack-Leopard, with Didier, Kloden and Tony Gallopin all in the break, also did a lot of work, while Gilbert’s rainbow jersey was never far from the front as the gap grew to more than nine minutes.
Although none of the serious contenders for the green jersey was present in the break, Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) launched a long attack to win the intermediate sprint at 45km to go.
The result took the Belgian, who has been part of a number of breaks this year, to tenth in the points classification, while Hoogerland and Jeannesson crossed second and third respectively.
With 35km to go Jean-Marc Marino (Sojasun) went off the front, with Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) joining him and helping build a small lead.
As they began the final category two climb (Col de Manse – 9.5km at 5.2%) the break was torn apart however, with individual attacks splitting the small bunch.
Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) caught Kadri and Marino, before all three were caught in turn by Rui Costa, who attacked alone off the front.
Costa timed his attack perfectly and raced into a solo lead, reaching the Col de Manse summit more than 30 seconds ahead of a four-man chasing group of Riblon, Jeannesson, Kloden and Cofidis’ Jerome Coppel.
And the back-to-back Tour de Suisse winner ensured he would not be caught on the final descent, racing into the final straight alone to take the stage.
Further back, with the peloton also splitting on the final climb, Team Saxo-Tinkoff duo Contador and Roman Kreuziger tried a number of attacks, but Froome and Sky team-mate Richie Porte repeatedly reeled them back in.
Both Contador and Froome unclipped on the final descent, which briefly looked like giving Bauke Mollema (Belkin) the chance to gain a few seconds but he sportingly slowed the group to wait for the yellow jersey to catch back up.
And after another fantastic relaying effort by Porte, all four finished alongside their GC rivals.
There was bad news for Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) however, who did not make it to the same group and lost almost a minute on the GC leaders.
Tour de France 2013 – stage 16 result
1 Rui Costa (POR) Movistar in 3:52:45hrs
2 Christophe Riblon (FRA) Ag2R-La Mondiale +42″
3 Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) FDJ same time
4 Jerome Coppel (FRA) Cofidis
5 Andreas Klöden (GER) RadioShack-Leopard
6 Tom Dumoulin (NED) Argos-Shimano +1’00”
7 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi +1’01”
8 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) BMC +1’04”
9 Cameron Meyer (AUS) Orica-GreenEdge same time
10 Ramunas Navardauskas (LTU) Garmin-Sharp
1 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling 65:15:36hrs
2 Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +4’14”
3 Alberto Contador (ESP) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +4’25”
4 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +4’28”
5 Nairo Quintana (COL) Movistar +5’47”
6 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +5’54”
7 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha +7’11”
8 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Astana +7’22”
9 Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) Ag2r-La Mondiale +8’47”
10 Daniel Martin (IRL) Garmin-Sharp +9’28”