FOUGERES, France: Having waited five years to add to his 30 Tour de France stage wins, Mark Cavendish was enjoying the moment and bluntly refused to be drawn into speculation about reaching Belgian great Eddy Merckx's all-time best mark of 34.
The Briton won his first stage on the Tour since 2016 after being included at the last moment in his Deceuninck-Quick Step team for the race as a stand-in for the injured Sam Bennett.
After hinting at retirement last season amid poor results, Cavendish was hired again this year by the Belgian team where he spent three years from 2013-15 and he repaid team boss Patrick Lefevere's faith with a stunning win.
"I needed a happy place, a team, a bike that fit me. I knew with those things I'd be alright," Cavendish told reporters after Tuesday's fourth stage in Fougeres, where he had bagged his last Tour win for Deceunink-Quick Step (then Etixx-Quick Step).
"That's why I wanted to come here."
Before his return to the race for the first time since 2018, Cavendish endured tough times, particularly when he was laid low by the Epstein-Barr virus.
But racing - and winning - again on the Tour kept him motivated.
"This race has given me the life I have and I've given it the life I had," he said.
With five stages potentially ending in a mass sprint to come, the 36-year-old Manxman, who took his first stage win on the Tour in 2008, could in theory at least equal the record set by five-times champion Merckx in the 1970s.
But Cavendish insisted thinking about it was too much of a stretch given how hard it is to win a single stage on the Tour - a race that has defined his career.
"I spoke to (third stage winner) Tim Merlier yesterday and said 'you think your career changed by winning a stage on the Giro (this year). Now your life changed because you won a Tour de France stage'," he said.
Asked directly about Merckx's record, he replied: "I think it's been only half an hour since I've won and you've already forgotten how big it is to win a Tour stage if you're asking questions like that."
His compatriot Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, admitted he was surprised by Cavendish's win.
"I hope he doesn't hear me say that. I thought he always had a chance, but for him to win today, great to see."