Mark Cavendish celebrated his first Tour de France stage win since 2016 as he sprinted to an emotional victory in Fougeres.
The Manxman collapsed in tears as he was congratulated by team-mates and rivals alike at the end of a dramatic stage in which breakaway rider Brent Van Moer was only denied victory within 200 metres of the line.
It was a 31st career Tour stage win for Cavendish, who also won here when the race last came to Fougeres in 2015, leaving him three behind the all-time record held by Eddy Merckx.
The win caps a fairy-tale return to the Tour for Cavendish, who feared his career was over in the winter before capitalising on the lifeline offered to him by Deceuninck-QuickStep.
But a rider who never even expected to be in this year’s Tour looked the class of the sprinting field as he rounded Jasper Philipsen and held off Nacer Bouhanni to win by a bike length – moving into the green jersey as leader of the points classification in the process.
Van Moer, part of a two-man breakaway on the day, had gone solo with 14km to go, building a lead of around a minute which stubbornly refused to drop as the peloton struggled to get organised behind.
But after Cavendish’s team took up the chase – led by world champion Julian Alaphilippe – Van Moer was finally reeled in within sight of the line at the end of the 150.4km stage from Redon.
The 36-year-old Cavendish, who has battled demons on and off the bike in recent years, struggled to compose himself in his podium interview.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Just being here is special enough. I didn’t think I would ever get to come back to this race.
“You just see what a great team this is. You’ve got the green jersey, the world champion Julian Alaphilippe coming to do the final pull just to try to catch the breakaway, putting everything in.
“So many people didn’t believe in me but these guys do.”
Cavendish was a late addition to the team’s Tour squad following an injury for Sam Bennett, but he has grasped the opportunity with both hands.
“I thought I was never coming back to this race. When you come to Deceuninck-QuickStep, they’ve got the best riders in the world so it wasn’t a thought for me that I would come here.
“But the stars aligned somehow. I would never ever ever want bad things to happen to other people but after the last years it’s just nice to have good luck for myself.”