Mark Cavendish (Sky) narrowly relinquished his red jersey to Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) after the Spaniard sprinted to fourth place on the Giro’s epic stage 20.

Sitting just 13 points behind Cavendish at the start of the stage, Rodriguez needed to finish at least fourth to claim 14 or more points and the ‘maglia rosso’ of points competition leader.

Although points are available at the finish of tomorrow’s time trial in Milan, it is extremely unlikely that either rider will finish in the top fifteen and qualify for points in the competition.

Cavendish especially will have little energy remaining after over 14 hours in the saddle over the mountain stages of the past two days.

Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford told Cycling Weekly that the team were well aware of where Rodriguez needed to finish to wrestle the red jersey away from them.

“It’s disappointing for Mark, he’s put a fantastic effort in over three weeks,” Brailsford said at the top of the Stelvio before Cavendish arrived after nearly eight hours on the road. “To lose it by one point is quite gut-wrenching.”

As Thomas De Gendt soloed to victory and Damiano Cunego and Mikel Nieve dripped in for second and third, Sky just had to hope that Rodriguez would fail to be first from the chasing group of favourites.

Unfortunately their two Colombian riders, Sergi Henao and Rigoberto Uran, were unable place themselves in front of ‘Purito,’ though not for want of trying. After crossing the oxygen-deprived finish line at 2757m, Uran rode straight past his soigneurs without so much as a glance of recognition.

Utterly exhausted, he kept his thousand yard stare before being chased down and shepherded along to the anti-doping control, still clinging on to his bike.

Although his efforts saw him slip to seventh overall, the 24 year-old Colombian successfully defended his white jersey and looks set to keep hold of it in Milan.

In a cruel twist of fate for Cavendish, he will have to ride tomorrow’s stage wearing the red jersey in the knowledge that he cannot win it. Thanks to Rodriguez’s race lead, he will be wearing his pink skinsuit as the honour of wearing red passes to second place. 

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De Gendt conquers Stelvio to win Giro stage 20