The Deceuninck-QuickStep sprinter beat Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to the line in a win reminiscent of his 2015 victory against André Greipel on the same uphill, curved finish.
Overwhelmed by emotions after the victory, Cavendish said that he never thought he'd return to the Tour following several tough seasons which have included battles with Epstein-Barr virus and depression.
"I don't know what to say. Just being here is special enough, you know?" Cavendish said. "I didn't think I'd get to come back to this race.
"I thought I was never coming back to this race. When you come to Deceuninck-QuickStep, they have the best riders in the world, so it wasn't even a thought to come here."
Cavendish moved to the Belgian squad late last year after fearing he would be forced to retire in November. He's enjoyed his best season since 2016, taking five victories through June, and was a late call-up to the Tour squad after Sam Bennett was ruled out due to a knee injury.
"The stars aligned," Cavendish said of his selection. "I never ever want bad things to happen to other people but after the last year it's just nice to have some good luck and health."
On the uphill run to the line, Cavendish had lead-out man Michael Mørkøv and green jersey holder Julian Alaphilippe helping him, with breakaway rider Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal) caught just 200 metres before the line. After surfing Philipsen's wheel in the finale, he jumped around to edge to win number 31 at the Tour de France.
"Just fire from the whole team," Cavendish said. "We didn't know if we'd get him [Van Moer] at the end. We lost Ballero [Ballerini] because he lost spokes in his wheel. Then you just see what a team this is, you've got the green jersey and World Champion Julian Alaphilippe – he just comes just to catch the breakaway, just putting everything in. So many people didn't believe in me, and these guys do."
Mørkøv praised Cavendish – who is now in green – after the stage, hailing his preparedness to be at this level despite not originally being down to race the Tour.
"Mark is a legend and I'm really proud to ride with him and bring him back on this level. Before today he had 30 wins in this race and to help him be back winning on a high level is a really proud moment as well," said Mørkøv.
"He wasn't even in the dressing room when the team was selected. He made it in at the last moment and showed today that he's a true pro bike rider who was prepared even though he wasn't supposed to do the race. He took his chance and it paid off."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.