Mark Cavendish won his first stage at this year's Tour de France with a clinical finish in Montargis. The HTC-Columbia sprinter was taken to the line by his entire team and finished ahead of Gerard Coilek (Milram) and Edvald Boassen Hagen (Team Sky).
Cavendish had faced constant scrutiny throughout the race after failing to win a stage. However, as he wept with joy on the Tour podium for the first time since Paris last year, the win clearly meant a lot.
"This is only my fourth year as a professional and it's hard when you had the success. People said that if I didn't win six at the Tour it was a failure but it's not, you just can't do that. Although I say to myself that I won't let it bother me, it does. It's just nice to finally win."
Cavendish's win came after his team threw their entire line-up behind him in support. With Rogers and Martin saving themselves for the GC battle ahead and Adam Hansen out of the race through injury, HTC appeared stretched during the opening days of the Tour, with a limited lead-out train that was beaten by the likes of Lampre and Garmin-Transitions. However Michael Rogers, Tony Martin, Konstantin Siutsou and the entire team worked today.
"They delivered me to the line and I just had to cross it first again," he said.
"I started this sport because I love it, it's my life and the more you love it the more you're going to do it and get better at it."
During the winner's press conference Cavendish skirted around the issues that have dogged his season – the dentistry, the lack of form and results, and the pressure heaped on him after winning six stages in last year's Tour. However, he gave an insight into the mentality of a winner who has been criticised for both his poor results this season and sometimes his behaviour.
"There's people that just want to pull you off a cloud and will find every little thing to do that. The fact of the matter is, is that if you're not a cloud they're not going to pull you off anyway. I learned a big lesson not to get on that cloud because people pulled me and I came crashing down. I came down very, very hard and it hurt a lot."
At one point a reporter asked about his bad boy image. An almost 40-second pause from the Manxman followed as he searched for an answer. "There's no fire without fuel, but I think if you put fuel on the fire it can be other people that waft the flames. That's what I believe has happened, but there are a lot of people that want to judge my personality on 30 seconds of what they see after a bike race. You come to realise the special people around you who see you for who you are. Fact is not the same as opinion."
Along with naming and thanking each of his remaining seven teammates in the race and the exact job they carried out for today's win, he also paid tribute to the people behind the scenes who have supported him.
"I have incredible friends and family around me and they helped me up and helped me to recover. I've learned a big lesson, and I want to thank those people for sticking around me the whole time."
At the finish Cavendish made a beeline for his lead out man Mark Renshaw, warmly embracing his roommate and saying, "You're a legend."
Renshaw, arguably the best in the business at leading out sprints has an effective eye for analysing sprints, but today he talked about the relief in taking the team's first win of the race. "It was hard today and we had to use guys in positions we normally don't and that shows how bad we really wanted it. I said he'd win here. It's a huge relief. I'm so glad he's got the monkey off his back."
While the battle for the green jersey still appears to be out of Cavendish's grasp, with one win under his belt and tomorrow's stage suited to another bunch gallop, suddenly it looks as though momentum could be on his side.
"I'm really happy to have won today and hopefully we'll have some more chances in the rest of the Tour. I don't know what happened yesterday; sometimes you just have bad days. I've learned lot things this year. Tomorrow is hopefully another bunch sprint."