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Cavendish ready to suffer in the Alps

Mark Cavendish is ready for a battle for survival in the Alps as he bids to retain the green jersey all the way to Paris.

The Tour today makes a brief excursion from France, with the 179-kilometre 17th stage from Gap finishing in Pinerolo, before returning from the Italian town tomorrow as part of a three-day trek through the Alps.

The likes of Thomas Voeckler, Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers will be looking to thrive on the Alpine ascents, while Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) will merely be aiming to complete the stages inside the time limit.

The 26-year-old from the Isle of Man said: "There are three big days ahead of us now and we'll have to fight all the way.

"I'm just going to have to suffer the next three days and try and save some energy (for Paris)."

Cavendish's next opportunity to score points is likely to come on Sunday's finale on the Champs-Elysees, where he will be seeking a third straight win.

On yesterday's stage 16 from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, Cavendish saw his points classification lead reduced, but only by three points to 34.

The Manxman has 319 points, with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) second on 285, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) third on 250 and yesterday's stage winner Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) fourth on 235.

"I'm pleased with how things went," said Cavendish, after seeing his rivals struggle to reduce the deficit.

"We'll keep on trying to keep the green jersey."

The maillot vert battle will likely take second billing behind the race for the yellow jersey today, with Voeckler holding a lead of one minute 45 seconds over Evans.

Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) is third, 1min 49secs behind, Andy Schleck fourth, 3:03 behind, and defending champion Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) sixth, 3:42 adrift.

Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas has signed a three-year contract extension with Team Sky.

The 25-year-old from Cardiff, riding in his third Tour, has been among the race's main protagonists, attracting admiring glances from the wider cycling world.

However, Thomas has now committed his future to the British-run, BSkyB-backed squad run by Dave Brailsford, who combines his role as Team Sky principal with his job as British Cycling performance director.

Brailsford added: "The last two weeks at the Tour de France have underlined again his world-class abilities and we look forward to seeing even more from him over the next three years."

© Press Association