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Cavendish out to keep green jersey bid on track

Mark Cavendish will again try to avoid a calamitous end to his Tour de France on today's final Alpine day and keep his hopes alive of a first green jersey.

As the overall favourites seek decisive time gains on the 109.5-kilometre stage from Mondane Valfrejus to Alpe-d'Huez, Cavendish will aim to continue his points classification fight.

The HTC-Highroad sprinter takes a 15-point lead in the race for the maillot vert into the 19th stage after being one of 88 riders to miss the time cut yesterday.

Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) won the 200.5-kilometre 18th stage from Pinerolo, Italy, to Galibier Serre-Chevalier - at an altitude of 2,645metres it was the highest finish in the Tour's history - in six hours seven minutes 56 seconds.

The time limit was set by race organisers at 6hrs 41mins 03secs, 33:07 behind the Luxembourg rider, but the large group including Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) was 35:40 adrift.

Due to the size of the group, the riders were permitted to continue, but not without a 20-point penalty which sees Cavendish now lead Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) by 300 points to 285 in the points classification standings.

Cavendish last night said: "We just have to think about tomorrow now.

"It's disappointing. 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."

Rojas finished 31:17 behind and inside the time limit, which will again be a threat today.

Today's intermediate sprint will also be a concern for Cavendish.

With the peloton having to first negotiate the category one ascent of the Col du Telegraphe and a second climb in two days of the Col du Galibier, Cavendish is unlikely to be in contention.

And should Rojas score points at the intermediate sprint, which comes 1.2km from the start of the final ascent to Alpe-d'Huez, he will reduce Cavendish's lead yet further ahead of Sunday's finale on the Champs-Elysees.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) takes a 15-second overall lead into today's stage after a resilient performance behind Andy Schleck, who moved up to second with yesterday's win.

Frank Schleck is third overall, 1:08 behind, with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) fourth, four seconds further back, but Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) sits seventh overall, 4:44 behind Voeckler with three days of racing remaining after finishing 3:50 down in 15th place yesterday.

© Press Association