Both Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) were among the attackers to make the breakaway at the midpoint of the 169-kilometre stage as the riders approached the intermediate sprint at Vic d'Oust.
The pair took 13 and 11 points, respectively there, as Cavendish rode in the autobus off the rear of the peloton. The Australian and Italian sprinters did not go on to contest for the stage win in Saint-Gaudens, however, with Bora-Hansgrohe's Patrick Konrad taking a solo victory.
Instead, they fought over second place, 42 seconds later, with Colbrelli coming out on top and taking 25 points as Matthews added 22 points to his total.
The result leaves Cavendish still in green on 279 points and Matthews closing to within 37 points on 242 points. Colbrelli, meanwhile, moves up to third in the rankings on 195 points.
"It wasn't a nice day, but it was enjoyable," Cavendish said after the finish. "I respond well to cold weather: it is as if I could breath easier in these conditions. It went well for me. Now there are two mountaintop finishes to go in a row on which I hope to survive.
"As for the green jersey, there is nothing I can do in these kind of stages against guys who can climb and go for points in the intermediate sprints."
Neither Matthews nor Colbrelli sounded especially confident about their chances of dislodging Cavendish at the top of the rankings over the remaining five stages.
"Today was a good opportunity for a stage win for a rider like me," Matthews said after the stage. "We planned to go in the breakaway, and we achieved that. The plan was to get some points in the intermediate sprint, and we achieved that. We just came up a bit short gaining for the stage win.
"I'm closer but not close enough. He's got two sprint opportunities in this Tour de France and if he wins both of them, that's another 100 points. It could all be for nothing but I'm a fighter and I'll fight all the way to Paris."
"This was my last chance to win a stage," said Colbrelli. "It's a pity it didn't come off. I can only congratulate Konrad because he was really strong.
"I was second again, passing the Cofidis rider on the line. That shows I'm feeling good, but I've struggled in the bunch sprints, losing position and so points. Now I just want to make it to Paris."
The good news for Cavendish is the fact that – with two flat sprint stages remaining in the race – Matthews and Colbrelli only have two top-five sprint finish placings between them so far, meaning both pose little threat on the road to Cavendish's points total.
Cavendish will now turn his focus to making it through stages 17 and 18 in the Pyrenees, with the summit finishes at the Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden providing further challenges in terms of the time cut. The Manxman cut it close on the stage 9 summit finish in Tignes, but finished comfortably in time in Saint-Gaudens, beating the 41-minute time cut by 18 minutes.
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in 2019 after working freelance at pretty much everywhere in cycling media for seven years.
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