Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) saw his lead in the points classification slashed after he was docked 20 points for being one of a number of riders to finish outside the time limit on stage 18 of the Tour de France.
With the time limit fixed at 33:07, Cavendish came home in a sizable gruppetto of 88 riders, 35:50 adrift of stage winner Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek). Joining Cavendish in arriving hors délai were Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo), Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), but the size of their group meant that they were not eliminated.
The race jury did, however, deduct 20 points from the riders in the group, dealing a blow to the green jersey hopes of Cavendish, Gilbert and Hushovd. This was good news for Movistar's Jose Joaquin Rojas, who led the first gruppetto home inside the time limit and thus retains all of his points. Cavendish remains in the green jersey, but his total has been reduced to 300 points, and Rojas is now only 15 points behind in second.
"It's disappointing," Cavendish said after the finish. "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. We just have to think about tomorrow now."
Hondo casts doubt on Cavendish’s climbing
Speaking to Cyclingnews before the start of stage 18 in Pinerolo, Italy, Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) discussed allegations that Cavendish had been hanging onto cars in the Pyrenees in a bid to avoid elimination. Similar accusations were levelled at Cavendish following the Etna stage of the Giro d’Italia in May. Hondo raised his eyebrows when asked if he thought his leader Alessandro Petacchi would have less trouble passing the three legendary climbs on Thursday's stage.
"Well, it seems as though Cavendish rides faster on some climbs than the fastest climbers in front of the race. So I'm not sure..." Hondo said.
At the start of the epic stage to the Galibier, Lampre management had calculated that the time limit would be about 40 minutes for the team's sprinters. As it turned out, the time limit was significantly less generous, but Hondo was already concerned about a 40-minute cut-off.
"You have to try to remain in the group and ride a good rhythm at least during the first two climbs. On the descents, you need to risk everything to try to make up some time there. For us, it's a time trial the whole day," he said.
The veteran German was part of the day’s early breakaway, but dropped back on the climb of the Izoard. Hondo ultimately finished in the same gruppetto as Petacchi and Cavendish – outside the original time limit, but still they live to fight another day.