Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) soloed to victory in Gap after attacking the breakaway on the Col de Manse
The 35-year-old Spaniard distanced a group containing the likes of green jersey Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the ascent and could not be brought back despite the Slovakian champion’s jaw-dropping ascending skills.
With Sagan forced to settle for second again, Plaza was able to celebrate his team’s first stage win of this year’s race, and fifth in Grand Tours after their successful Giro d’Italia.
Further back – more than 18 minutes later – defending champion Vincenzo Nibali attacked on the Manse and descended well to claw back some time of his own overall but Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) suffered a bad crash on the descent.
Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) locked up on a corner in the front group and inadvertently pushed Thomas off the road and into a telegraph pole.
Thomas, fortunately, got up and finished the stage, but any lasting effect of the Welshman’s crash, with the peloton bound for the Alps, is yet to be seen.
The stage had already finished long before the peloton, some 18 minutes back, had started the descent – with Sagan having been in combative mood again as the break was instigated early on.
Having swept up the points at the intermediate sprint, Sagan was to the fore of a leading group of 23 riders as they headed for the Manse, but there were no shortage of attacks around him.
With a tailwind for assistance, that front group was able to forge a big lead ahead of the peloton, which eased in response.
Sagan, Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) and then Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) all attacked at varying points, with the Aussie initially the most successful in getting a gap.
He was joined by Austrian champion Marco Haller (Katusha), and the two led until the Col de la Manse, but Plaza stuck out alone on the climb.
Sagan was in the chasing group, but with nobody willing to carry him to the finish, the Slovakian champion had to make up the deficit on the descent, which by that point stood at almost a minute.
He attacked at great speed on the descent though, getting into the super-aero tuck on his top tube and riding fearlessly into the corners.
He had halved it thanks to his descending, brakes squealing into the corner, but the kilometres ticked down against him.
Plaza still led under the flamme rouge, despite Sagan’s furious chase behind, and the Lampre-Merida man had built up too big a lead on the climb, allowing to celebrate victory.
Further back, Tinkoff-Saxo shredded the yellow jersey group on the Manse before Nibali bolted off the front on the descent but the biggest drama saw Thomas forced off the road by Barguil’s error of judgement.
With British champion Peter Kennaugh having already abandoned, it could have spelled very bad news for Team Sky, but fortunately the Welshman remounted and finished the stage.
Tour de France 2015: stage 16 – result
1) Ruben Plaza (ESP) – Lampre-Merida – 4.30.10hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Tinkoff-Saxo +30”
3) Jarlinson Pantono (COL) – IAM Cycling +36”
4) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Alpecin +40”
5) Bob Jungels (LUX) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
6) Christophe Riblon (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
7) Daniel Teklehaimanot (ERI) – MTN-Qhubeka +53”
8) Thomas de Gendt (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal +1.00
9) Luis Angel Mate (ESP) – Cofidis +1.22
10) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Europcar – ST
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 64.47.16hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3.10
3) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +3.32
4) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +4.02
5) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +4.23
6) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +5.32
7) Robert Gesink (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +6.23
8) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +7.49
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Trek Factory Racing +8.53
10) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Alpecin +11.03