Cavendish nearly loses Tour's green jersey

Mark Cavendish, Tour de France 2011, stage 17

"It's disappointing," said Cavendish said. "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."

The race jury will allow the 88-man group to continue, but penalised each rider 20 points. Cavendish now only leads by a slim 15-point margin to Spaniard José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), who was in a group 4-23 minutes ahead.

Cavendish's group finished 35-40 minutes behind Schleck and 2-33 minutes outside the time limit. The jury referred to article 22, which allows for modified time limits if more than 20 per cent of the day's starting riders are outside the time limit. However, each rider in the group loses the same number of points awarded to the winner. Schleck received 20 points for his win.

HTC had eight of its riders in the 88-man group, only Peter Velits was ahead. The group also included sprinter André Greipel and Philippe Gilbert, who is third in the points classification.

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Mark Cavendish's green jersey quest became more difficult after Tour de France's mountainous leg to the Col du Galibier today. HTC-Highroad's British sprinter finished in a group outside the time limit and lost 20 points.

The race jury calculates the time limit from the winner's time, the average speed and the difficulty of the stage. Today, the time limit was nine per cent of Andy Schleck's winning time of 6 hours 7-56 minutes, averaging 32.656km/h - or 33-07 minutes.

Australia's Richie Porte finished slightly ahead of Cavendish's group, but was also outside the limit. He too is able to continue.

The Tour de France finishes Sunday in Paris, where Cavendish won the last two years. He is now in a position where he needs to win to help ensure the jersey remains on his shoulders.

Points classification

1 Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad 300

2 José Joaquín Rojas (Spa) Movistar 285

3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto 230