An elated Cavendish heaped praise on his Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad, which split the peloton in crosswinds early on the 173km stage 13 from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
And when Saxo-Tinkoff Bank sensed an opportunity to distance yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) with a second critical selection with 30km to race, Cavendish rode across a growing gap to join them and remain in contention for the win against green jersey Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
If feels incredible it really does," said the rider after collecting his stage win and the award for most combative rider, which he dedicated to his team. "I actually did more watts in the sprint over to the front group than I did in the finish. I just managed to get around last man and we were away. It was touch and go, but it was nice to do."
The win comes a day after he was narrowly beaten by Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) in Tours at the end of stage 12. Cavendish said the team didn't have a grand plan to take today's stage in hand but sensed an opportunity to fatigue the peloton after about 60km of racing.
"They rode like absolute animals. They rode with 100 percent commitment yesterday, and I let them down, so for them to come out today and ride even harder, even sooner, shows what a special group people this team is."
"There wasn't really a master plan. We just felt the wind was in the right position so we just started to ride a bit harder, and we did it more to make the peloton tired and finally it broke."
In the final kilometre, Mark Cavendish had teammates Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra in the 14-man group. Terpstra attacked under flamme rouge, forcing Peter Sagan's only remaining teammate Maciej Bodnar to chase. The move exposed Sagan to the headwind with Cavendish on his wheel. The 28-year-old Briton easily out-sprinted Sagan.
In 2009, Cavendish won a similarly dramatic crosswind-affected stage on the road to La Grande-Motte.