HTC-Highroad’s leadout train delivered Cavendish to perfection and the 26-year-old made no mistake in doubling his 2011 Tour tally to take his overall record to 17 victories.
“This was the one I wanted most – apart from Paris – because of the sentiment,” said Cavendish.
But it was a bittersweet day for British fans after Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins abandoned with a broken collarbone after crashing with 40km of the 218km stage remaining.
The first week of the Tour is traditionally a sprinter’s paradise but the 2011 route’s opening stages, with uphill finishes and tricky, technical run-ins, have favoured the puncheurs of the peloton.
But Cavendish would have targetted the pan-flat stage seven as soon as the 2011 route was announced in October.
A four-man break of Pablo Urtasun Perez (Euskaltel), Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun), and FDJ duo Gianni Meersman and Mickael Delage was allowed to escape after 6km before building up a lead touching seven minutes.
Former world champion Tom Boonen withdrew midway through the stage, suffering from injuries sustained the previous day, but Wiggins was the big-name casualty in a week that has seen most of the general classification contenders hit the deck.
The 31-year-old Wiggins was among approximately 20 riders to fall and, after waving his Sky team-mates away and receiving roadside treatment, the three-time Olympic track gold medallist was stretchered into the back of an ambulance.
A string of overall contenders also fell – including RadioShack trio Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych, and Garmin-Cervelo’s Ryder Hesjedal – to eventually finish three minutes behind the main bunch in a group of 80 riders, including Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who handed the white jersey for best young rider to Robert Gesink (Rabobank).
Leopard-Trek moved to the front of the lead group in support of GC contenders Andy and Frank Schleck before HTC-Highroad took over.
HTC’s leadout train had faltered on stage three, when Cavendish finished fifth, but the American-based squad made no mistake this time out, launching Cavendish with 500m remanining.
And the Brit proved why he’s dubbed the fastest man on two wheels by sprinting to victory ahead of 2010 green jersey winner Alessandro Petacchi and Andre Greipel to move to eighth on the list of all-time Tour de France stage winners.
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) – 5h 38m 53s
2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/Lampre-ISD) – same time
3. Andre Greipel (GER/Omega Pharma-Lotto)
4. Romain Feillu (FRA/Vacansoleil-DCM)
5. William Bonnet (FRA/FDJ)
6. Denis Galimyaznov (RUS/Katusha)
7. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo)
8. Sebastien Turgot (FRA/Europcar)
9. Jose Joaquin Rojas (SPA/Movistar)
10. Sebastien Hinault (FRA/Ag2r La Mondiale)
18. David Millar (GBR/Garmin-Cervelo) – same time
128. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) +3′ 06″
145. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) – same time
1. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo) 28h 29m 27s
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) +1″
3. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +4″
4. David Millar (GBR/Garmin-Cervelo) +8″
5. Andreas Kloden (AUS/Radioshack) +10″
6. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/Leopard-Trek) +12″
7. Andy Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +12″
8. Tony Martin (GER/HTC-Highroad) +13″
9. Peter Velits (SVK/HTC-Highroad) +13″
10. Robert Gesink (NED/Rabobank) +20″
38. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) +3′ 18″
59. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) +6′ 06″
70. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) +6′ 56″
1. Jose Joaquin Rojas (SPA/Movistar) – 167 points
2. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto) – 156 pts
3. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) – 150 pts
4. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo) – 130 pts
5. Romain Feillu (FRA/Vacansoleil-DCM) – 99 pts