By Nigel Wynn
Chris Froome (Team Sky) survived a technical final descent and an attack from defending Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to retain his overall race lead after stage 17 to Gap on Monday.
Spaniard Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) won the stage ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in second and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) in third.
>>> Five talking points from stage 16 of the Tour de France
Plaza had attacked from an escape group 20 minutes ahead of the peloton on the final climb of Col de Manse to take a solo victory.
Froome maintains his overall race lead ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by 3-10, with Tejay van Garderen in third at 3-32. Despite crashing on the final descent and losing time, Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) retains his sixth place overall going into Tuesday's second and final rest day.
Points classification leader Sagan got himself into the escape group for the third consecutive day, continuing his mission of vacuuming up as many points as possible to secure the green jersey.
The day's 23-rider escape group was formed from two separate groups, one of 11 and one of 12, which joined after Sagan had taken maximum points at the intermediate sprint point after 86.5km.
On the steady climb towards the first categorised ascent of the day, Col de Cabre, the large lead group stretched out its gap over the peloton to over 12 minutes.
Sagan accelerated away from the break on the descent of the Col de Cabre, perhaps as a test for the final descent. He was briefly joined by Andriy Grivko (Astana) at the bottom of the downhill run, but they were caught by the rest of the break.
Grand Tour veteran Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) was the next to attack, jumping clear of the break with 45km to go and was joined by Marco Haller (Katusha) 10km later. The duo hit the base of the Col de Manse with a minute's lead over the chasers, and the peloton at 20 minutes.
Sagan, Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) caught and passed Hansen and Haller mid-way up the Col de Manse, with Plaza immediately attacking and going solo. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), Luis Mate (Cofidis), Bob Jungels (Trek) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) then bridged over to the chase group to make nine.
Sagan followed every attack from the chase group, determined not to allow anyone else get away as Plaza crested the top of the Col de Manse ahead and maintained his gap to take the victory despite a daredevil chase by Sagan. For the fifth time this Tour, Sagan had to settle for second place.
Behind, Roman Kreuziger led Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate Alberto Contador in front of Sky and Froome into the Col de Manse as the peloton was quickly whittled down to the overall contenders.
As widely predicted, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked on the descent of the Col de Manse, utilising his superior descending skills top open up a gap. Thomas was knocked off the road as Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) went wide on a corner and nudged him sideways into a telegraph pole and down a bank. Thomas was helped back up by a spectator, remounted and finished the stage just 38 seconds down on Froome.
Nibali gained 28 seconds on his rivals after his downhill move, maintaining his eighth place and is now 7-49 behind Froome.
British national champion Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) withdrew during the stage after suffering with illness for the past two days, leaving Sky with seven men to support Froome. Stage 13 winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was a non-starter, as he returned home to be with his pregnant wife.
The peloton will now have a chance to recuperate ahead of a tough final week in the Alps with the second rest day of the race on Tuesday. Racing resumes on Wednesday with stage 17, a climb-filled excursion from Digne-les-Bains over 161km that includes a final ascent to the finish line in Pra Loup.
>>> Tour de France 2015 stage 17 full preview
Tour de France 2015, stage 16: Bourg-de-Péage to Gap, 201km
1. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Lampre-Merida in 4-30-10
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo at 30 secs
3. Jarlinson Pantano (Col) IAM Cycling at 36 secs
4. Simon Geschke (Ger) Giant-Alpecin at 40 secs
5. Bob Jungels (Ned) Trek Factory Racing
6. Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2r at same time
7. Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) MTN-Qhubeka at 53 secs
8. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal at 1-00
9. Luis Mate (Spa) Cofidis at 1-22
10. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar at same time
24. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 17-44
25. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 18-12
28. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 18-12
30. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 18-12
32. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 18-12
34. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 18-50
Overall classification after stage 16
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 64-47-16
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3-10
3. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 3-32
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 4-02
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 4-23
6. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 5-32
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 6-23
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 7-49
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing at 8-53
10. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin at 11-03
Watch Cycling Weekly's guide to the forthcoming Alpine stages
Best Black Friday cycling deals that will save you a fortune
Our ultimate guide on where and how make the most savings on the big discount deal day
By Hannah Bussey •
Inside Hell - Behind the scenes at Paris Roubaix Femmes
Cycling Weekly jumped in one of the Drops Le Col team cars to watch the glorious chaos of Paris Roubaix unfold
By Vern Pitt •
Chris Froome and Philippe Gilbert save fan who fell down ravine on Tour de France stage 17
The incident occurred on the descent of the Col du Portet as the riders made their way back to the buses
By Jonny Long •
Chris Froome: 'I've got my running shoes in the car so I'm ready for Ventoux'
The four-time Tour de France champion looks back on the last time the race went up Mont Ventoux
By Jonny Long •
Mark Cavendish says ‘people will not understand mindset’ of Chris Froome as he chases Tour de France comeback
‘I can talk from personal experience, you can’t write somebody off’
By Alex Ballinger •
Chris Froome 'heading in the right direction' despite dark bruising on hip and chest
The four-time champion says he can never remember seeing so many injured riders in the peloton
By Jonny Long •
Tour de France bikes: Chris Froome’s custom Factor Ostro VAM
Magura disc-brake calipers feature alongside old favourites such as Osymetric chainrings and Lightweight Meilenstein wheels
By Stefan Abram •
Israel sports director questions whether the best-ever Chris Froome could compete with young stars of today
Israel Start-Up Nation say Froome didn't come into the Tour 100 per cent, but will improve by the third week, and will hopefully be the 'real Chris Froome' at this year's Vuelta a España
By Jonny Long •
Chris Froome finishes stage two of Tour de France despite injuries, Ineos Grenadiers riders lose more time
Tao Geoghegan Hart lost a big chunk of time for the second day running
By Chris Marshall-Bell •
Chris Froome passed fit to start stage two of Tour de France after evening in hospital
The Israel Start-Up Nation rider was caught up in the second of stage one's massive crashes
By Chris Marshall-Bell •