Sagan can do it all…except win
Yet another second place finish for Sagan in this Tour de France – his fifth of the race so far – but the Slovak showed off all his skills on stage 16.
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Out in the breakaway again for the third day in a row, Sagan took care of business by rolling unchallenged across the intermediate sprint line ahead of the peloton and then got his head down once more in search of that elusive stage win.
It was on the Col de Manse where Sagan really showed us all the tricks in his box, excelling on both the ascent and descent. Television commentators speculated that Sagan could just about keep up with the better climbers on the Col, but as it turned out he was the one to set the early tempo.
As the climb reached the top there was attack after attack, but Sagan marked each and every one of them with absolute ease, except that by eventual winner Ruben Plaza.
Then, on the descent, Sagan went haring after Plaza, showing some remarkable bike handling around the notorious Manse corners.
As it was, though, Plaza had gained an unassailable advantage over the top as he soloed to the line, with Sagan trailing 30 seconds later.
Don’t expect to see the Tinkoff-Saxo rider placing particularly high in the upcoming Alpine stages, but he will undoubtedly be one to watch on the Champs-Elysees finish.
Geraint Thomas’s crash and amazing recovery
Thomas’s hopes of finishing high in the general classification almost suffered a massive dent when he ended up off the side of the road on the descent of the Col de Manse.
The Welshman has a reputation of crashing at key points, but this time it was definitely not his fault as Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil carried far too much speed and a terrible line into a corner, bumped Thomas and sent him flying over the safety tape and into a ditch.
Thomas had no chance to avoid the incident, flipping off his bike and clipping his head a telephone pole as he went off the road
There were few updates on Thomas’s condition in the immediate aftermath, but it soon emerged that the Sky rider had scrambled out of the ditch and back onto his bike, chasing down the group he was cruelly dumped from.
He crossed the line just 40 seconds down on Froome, led out by teammate Wout Poels, who left Froome in the final kilometres to chaperone Thomas home. He said afterwards that he was most upset about losing his trademark white glasses: “They don’t make those anymore!”
Froome eases home again
Vincenzo Nibali aside, Chris Froome once again kept his main rivals in check up and down the Col de Manse. Even though Nibali took 45 seconds off Froome on the descent, but that won’t cause the Brit to lose any sleep.
Valverde tried to go on the attack, but Froome’s team of Poels and Thomas helped the yellow jersey neutralise any threats. Alberto Contador even tried to put a few seconds in on Froome in the final sprint, but Froome was having none of it.
With the next four stages featuring summit finishes, one of Nairo Quintana, Contador, van Garderen or Valverde will have to put in a monster attack on one of the high mountains if they are to have any chance of dethroning Froome.
MTN-Qhubeka almost take control of the team classification
Having got three men in the breakaway, MTN-Qhubeka were probably hoping for another stage win, after Steve Cummings got them off the mark on Saturday.
In the end they nearly ended up taking the lead in the team classification after all three riders finished well ahead of the main group. Had Edvald Boasson Hagen and Serge Pauwels both crossed the line alongside Daniel Teklehaimanot a minute behind Plaza they may have pushed Movistar close.
As it was, MTN climbed six places in the classification, sitting now second behind the Spanish team by 20 minutes.
The classification is based on the combined times of the team’s top five riders, so it just shows how well MTN-Qhubeka riders have done in their first Tour.
Adam Hansen is back to his old tricks
Having spent the vast majority of the first two weeks nursing his badly injured shoulder, which he hurt in a crash all the way back on stage two.
But with it heavily strapped up, Hansen made it out into the large breakaway on Monday’s stage and then had a solo dig with 45km to go in an attempt to steal the stage.
He made it a good 30 seconds away from the chasers until he was joined by Katusha’s Austrian champion Marco Haller. The law firm, Hansen and Haller, as Phil Liggett referred to them as stayed away for a fair while but finally succumbed on the Col de Manse climb.
Hansen has won stages at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, but a Tour victory has evaded him during his long streak of riding all three Grand Tours each year.
His chances of winning a stage are probably over for this year, but it’s almost certain the Australian will be back next year to have another shot.
Take a look at Alberto Contador’s Tour de France bike