Mark Cavendish and fellow sprinters Marcel Kittel and Dylan Groenewegen scraped through the first Tour de France mountain stage by the skin of their teeth as they finished just 28 seconds inside the time limit.
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With stage winner Julian Alaphilippe completing the 158.5km stage between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand in a time of 4-25-27 at an average speed of 35.8kmh, the time limit for the stage was set at 13 per cent of Alaphilippe’s time, meaning that riders had to finish in less than 34-30 in arrears to avoid being eliminated from the race.
For the majority of the riders this was not a problem, with two large groups coming in at 25-03 and 27-30 to comfortably make the time cut. However there was a nervous wait for some at the finish line as the clock ticked towards the time limit of 4-59-57 with no sign of three of the biggest sprinters in the race.
But shortly before 18:35 local time, the team managers of Dimension Data, Katusha-Alpecin, and LottoNL-Jumbo were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief as a group of 11 riders containing Cavendish, Kittel, and Groenewegen alongside lead-out men Rick Zabel, Mark Renshaw, and Timo Roosen crossed the line in a time of 4-59-29, just 28 seconds inside the time limit.
The Tour’s regulations allow for the commissaires to permit “particularly unlucky” riders who finish outside the time limit to continue in the race, with there also being provision for riders to continue in the race if an especially large number finish outside the time limit.
Watch: Tour de France stage 10 highlights
However this would have unlikely been applied to the 11 riders that scraped through Tuesday’s stage as they did not suffer any particular bad luck and were not in a large group.
Cavendish and co. were dropped on the first major climb of the stage, the first category Col de la Croix-Fry, and will face another race against the time cut on Wednesday’s stage which starts climbing the hors-categorie Montée de Bisanne almost immediately after the flag drops.
Tour organisers estimate that the stage winner will cross the four major climbs and arrive in the finish in La Rosière in a time of roughly 3-17, meaning the gruppetto will have to finish around 27 minutes behind the winner.
However if the winner’s time is slower, then the gruppetto will have to finish a few minutes less behind the winner, while they will be given a little more leeway if it is a fast day of racing.