Nicolas Roche just missed out on Tour de France glory for the second time in a row, finishing fourth behind Euskaltel-Euskadi's Mikel Asterloza in Tuesday's 16th stage.

Roche was second in Sunday's stage and with Monday a rest day found himself at the head of affairs again today.

After a tough day in the mountains, he was one of eight riders who took part in a 10km frantic downhill sprint for the line after clearing a massive climb, the Col-du-Petit St Bernard, the final part of a 159km trek from Martigny to Bourg St Maurice.

The Irishman was part of the second group of four, and they eventually overhauled three of those.

But Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Asterloza had flown by the time they arrived, putting in his burst with 2km remaining, and Roche and the other pursuers finished six seconds behind him. Frenchman Sandy Casar won the second place sprint with Pierrick Fedrigo taking third.

Roche remains in 30th place overall, 16'48 behind leader Alberto Contador. He is 7th in the young rider category, 14'22 behind leader Andy Schleck.

Contador retained the yellow jersey, controlling the main chasing group from the front with the help of his Astana team although his general classement second placed team-mate Lance Armstrong had to work hard to stay with him.

Armstrong briefly became detached from Contador towards the end of the final climb but got back to the yellow jersey before the end and remains 1'37 behind the leader with another big mountain stage to come on Tuesday.

Third placed Bradley Wiggins also finished in Contador's group and is 1'46 back.

Speaking about his win, Asterloza said: 'I’m super happy right now. I had the strength to finally win a stage of the Tour de France. I’ve only got a small resume of results and there’s not a lot of victories on it but this goes right to the top of the list.

'I’m not finished with yet because I still feel like I’ve got a bit of strength in my legs and, of course, we all benefited from the rest day yesterday. But I’m always prepared to see what I can do.

'It’s never easy to attack a small group of riders, especially after such a rapid descent and against others who were also very strong.'