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Friday 9 December 2016

Tour De France: Molina takes win as Sky rider Thomas hits telephone pole

Lampre-Merida rider Ruben Plaza Molina of Spain celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 201-km (124 miles) 16th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Bourg-de-Peage to Gap, France, July 20, 2015
Lampre-Merida rider Ruben Plaza Molina of Spain celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 201-km (124 miles) 16th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Bourg-de-Peage to Gap, France, July 20, 2015

Haring downhill at breakneck speeds, Ruben Plaza Molina rode triumphantly into Gap as the solo winner of a treacherous Stage 16 yesterday that saw a teammate of race leader Chris Froome career into a telephone pole and Peter Sagan finish second for a fifth time.

Froome's Sky teammate Geraint Thomas, who was sixth overall, suffered the terrifying crash on a hairpin bend, after another rider collided into him. That sent the Sky rider thumping shoulder- and head-first into the telephone pole. He bounced off it and disappeared into a dark thicket of woods, with his bike, scattering roadside spectators who leapt out of the way.

Although Thomas remounted, rode on and finished, the hair-rising accident showed how tricky the end of Stage 16 was, with a long, winding downhill that riders tore down at speeds of 70 kph (45 mph) or more. It was on this descent in 2003 that Lance Armstrong flew off a bend into a field and Joseba Beloki's wheels slipped on melting tarmac, throwing him to the deck and breaking bones.

The French rider who slammed into Thomas on the bend, Warren Barguil, said he wanted to brake but his finger slipped, sending him into the Welsh rider. Thomas tried to slow down but couldn't correct his straight-on trajectory. The impact with the pole sent a spectator's folded plastic chair flying.

"I was very frightened," said Barguil, who rides for the Giant-Alpecin team. "I didn't do it on purpose."

Thomas said he was unhurt.

"I just got taken out," he said. "I hit my head on the lamppost."

Froome said he expects Thomas to bounce back in the Alps.

"He's OK," Froome said. "He's a tough guy."

Froome was delighted to come through the stage unscathed and keep his overall lead.

Today is a rest day on the Tour, then come four days of climbing in the Alps that will be his rivals' last chance to unseat the British rider before the finish on Sunday in Paris.

Froome goes into the Alps with one less teammate, after Peter Kennaugh fell ill and abandoned.

Plaza, 35, was riding far ahead of Froome and the main pack in a breakaway of two dozen riders. Froome was happy to let them go as they weren't threats for the podium in Paris.

The Spanish rider left behind his group of escapees on the final climb, the mid-grade Manse pass, and held them off on the winding 12-kilometer (7-mile) descent to the finish at Gap in the foothills of the Alps.

Sagan chased after the Lampre-Merida rider on the descent but couldn't catch him. Sagan thumped his heart several times as he crossed the line for the fifth time in second place at this Tour.

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