FOUGERES, FRANCE (REUTERS) - A last-gasp addition to his team, Mark Cavendish rolled back the years as he claimed his 31st Tour de France stage victory on Tuesday (June 29) - five years after his last success on the world's greatest cycling race.
The Briton, who finished outside the time limit in his previous participation in 2018, crashed out in 2017 and hinted at retirement last year. He is now three victories away from the Tour's all-time stage win record held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
Cavendish, back in the Deceuninck-Quick Step team this season after a five-year hiatus, powered past his rivals in the final straight to beat France's Nacer Bouhanni to the line.
Belgian Jasper Philipsen took third place while his Alpecin-Fenix team mate Mathieu van der Poel retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.
"So many people did not believe in me, you know - and these guys do," a tearful Cavendish said afterwards, referring to Deceuninck-Quick Step. "I thought I'd never be back."
The day had begun with a rider protest - with all teams putting their collective foot down 1km into the 150.4km ride from Redon to bring the race to a halt for about a minute in a silent protest for safer racing conditions after numerous crashes in the opening stages.
They then rode the next 10km at a snail's pace.
As the stage came to a conclusion, breakaway rider Brent van Moer was close to upsetting the sprinters. But he was caught by the charging peloton 150m from the line, with Cavendish producing a perfectly timed effort to snatch his 49th stage win on a Grand Tour in the town where he also prevailed in 2015.
Wednesday's fifth stage is a 27.2km individual time trial from Change to Laval.