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Time cut penalty puts Rojas back into green jersey battle

COL du GALIBIER, France (AFP) – British sprint king Mark Cavendish survived being eliminated from the Tour de France after the epic 18th stage to the Col du Galibier Thursday.

However the HTC-Highroad rider now faces a battle to keep hold of the green jersey for the points competition after being handed a points penalty that has put Spanish rival Jose Joaquin Rojas back into contention.

Cavendish now has a total of 300 points, with Movistar rider Rojas only 15 off the pace with 285. In third place and virtually out of the running with 230 is Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert of Omega-Pharma.

Points after stage 18

  • 1. Mark Cavendish, Htc – Highroad, with 300 points
  • 2. Joaquin Rojas Jose, Movistar Team, with 285 points
  • 3. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma – Lotto, with 230 points
  • 4. Thor Hushovd, Team Garmin – Cervelo, with 215 points
  • 5. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team, with 180 points
  • Complete points standings

Unlike Rojas, the Isle of Man rider had been part of an 88-strong ‘grupetto’ — a group of riders who, because of their comparative lack of climbing ability, club together in a bid to survive the stage and beat the cutoff time.

The cutoff time is calculated using the time of the stage winner — Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck finished in 6hr 07min 56 seconds with a percentage of his winning time, in Thursday’s case 9 percent.

It meant the field had to finish in 6:41:03 to avoid being thrown unceremoniously off the race. Cavendish and co. finished in 6:43:36.

Because that move would have decimated the field three days before the final stage in Paris, organizers used articles 22 and 25b of their regulations to offer a repechage.

Instead, the 88 riders concerned were hit with a 20-point penalty.

Cavendish said had they known they were so close to the cutoff time, the grupetto might have raced to finish inside it.

“It’s disappointing. We thought we were way out of the time limit with quite a long way to go but it was a lot closer and had we known it might have made a difference,” he said.

“We just have to think about tomorrow now.”

On Friday’s final day in the mountains there is one intermediate sprint, where the first 15 riders over the line can collect points towards the green jersey.

However it is just before the start of the final climb to Alpe d’Huez.

With Saturday’s penultimate stage a 42.5 km time trial in which no points can be won, Cavendish could be left battling Rojas on the final stage to the Champs Elysees, which he has won the past two years.

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