Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) won his second stage of the 2018 Tour de France after beating his breakaway rivals to the line in Bagnères de Luchon.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had been leading after attacking at just over 13km to go on the final climb of the Col du Portillon in the Pyrenees, taking 25 seconds advantage over lone pursuer Alaphilippe as he began the descent. But a crash from the Brit on a corner saw Alaphilippe catch and pass him, with Yates unable to respond.
Frenchman Alaphilippe was then easily able to ride to the finish solo and celebrate in his polka-dot jersey, as Yates was caught by some of his former breakaway companions behind, but was able to hold on to take third behind Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
Geraint Thomas retained his overall lead after a long day in the mountains, with his Team Sky squad setting a strong pace that prevented the only notable attack from Mikel Landa (Movistar) on the final climb from gaining much ground.
The top-10 GC contenders all finished safely in the peloton to retain their spots, as they rolled in over eight minutes down on winner Alaphilippe.
How it happened
After a well-earned break 0n the 2018 Tour de France’s second rest day on Monday, the riders set off on the road towards the Pyrenees on stage 16, with a 218km route from Carcassonne to Bagnères de Luchon, with five classified climbs along the way.
The route looked to suit a big breakaway – potentially the last chance for one to succeed in this Tour – and as such there was an immediate fight to try and form the escape out front from the drop of the flag.
With no proper break formed, there was an unexpected interruption to proceedings as a protest by French farmers ended up seeing the race neutralised for around 15 minutes or so with 188km still to race.
As police tried to disperse protesters with pepper spray, some of the spray was blown back in towards the peloton and the race was stopped so riders, including yellow jersey Geraint Thomas and green jersey Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), could be treated by their support cars and the medical car.
Once racing got underway, it was once again a huge fight to try and the form a breakaway, with well over an hour of attacks before a group was finally allowed to get clear with around 117km to go.
The break group consisted of a massive 46 riders, with some regular faces from previous breaks reappearing including Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), polka-dot jersey wearer Julian Alaphilippe and his team-mate Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Greg Van Avermaet, Tejay van Garderen and Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The best placed overall rider in the breakaway was best young rider jersey wearer Pierre Latour (Ag2r Mondiale), who sat in 14th place at 17-28.
Despite his presence, the Sky led peloton was comfortable to let the gap grow out to nearly 10 minutes on the first category two climb of the Col de Portet d’Aspet.
Gilbert was the first rider to attack the breakaway group on the climb with 71km to go, and gained over a minute as he crested the top of the climb and began the descent down towards the next climb of the Col de Mente.
Disaster struck for the former world champion on the descent however, as he overcooked a left turn and clattered into a wall before flying over it and disappearing down the verge.
He was fortunately able to get back on his bike with minimal injuries, but had already been passed by the breakaway and eventually sat up to return to the peloton.
Meanwhile, the breakaway climbed the category one climb of the Col de Mente with nearly 13 minutes in hand, with attacks beginning to fly.
Caruso and Gesink briefly went clear, however Alaphilippe’s desire to grab more mountain points saw them caught before the summit with the front group now severely reduced with riders dropped further down the climb.
Despite the breakaway riders beginning the descent in dribs and drabs, the flat before the final category one climb of the Col du Portillon saw 17 riders come back together, including Alaphilippe, Barguil, Caruso, Gesink, Yates, Latour, Mathias Frank (Ag2r la Mondiale), Andrey Amador and Marc Soler (Movistar), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Gorka Izagirre and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal) and Michael Valgren (Astana), still with 11-40 over the peloton behind and 1-12 on the nearest chasers.
As they hit the climb with around 20km to go, Barguil was the first to get dropped before Frank was dropped following short lived attacks from Valgren and Molard.
Eventually seven riders – Yates, Gesink, Alaphilippe, Pozzovivo, Soler, Izagirre, and Mollema – were alone at the front with just under half the 8.3km climb left, before Yates hit out with around 3km to go to the top, quickly gaining 20 seconds.
The Brit had around 25 seconds in hand with Alaphilippe now alone in pursuit on the descent towards the finish in Bagnères de Luchon.
With 15 seconds between the pair, Alaphilippe was able to catch Yates after he crashed on a hairpin corner on the descent.
The Frenchman was able to quickly gap Yates, who had clearly been left shaken by the crash, and was able to ride in with a clear gap to take his second victory of the race after winning on stage seven.
Yates was able to take third place despite being caught by Izagirre and Mollema on the descent.
Back in the peloton, Mikel Landa made the most notable attack in the GC towards the top of the final climb, but that was short-lived as Sky pegged him back and brought it all together on the descent.
The peloton rolled in together to safely keep the GC as it was ahead of the stage.
Stage 17 will see the riders take on an exceptionally short day, but one fraught with difficulty as it takes in three huge climbs over 65km from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Tour de France 2018, stage 16: Carcassonne – Bagnères de Luchon (218km)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 5-13-22
2. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 15s
3. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, all same time
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 18s
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 27s
7. Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Tea, at 56s
8. Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1-10
10. Pierre Latour (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-18
General classification after stage 16
1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, in 68-12-01
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 01-39
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-50
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 02-38
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 03-21
6. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar , at 03-42
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 03-57
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 04-23
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 06-14
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 06-54