Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) cited stomach problems as the reason he was relegated to the back of the race right from the beginning of the 183km stage from Mende to Valence.
After he lost contact with the peloton in the early part of the race, Cavendish was guided by team-mates Mark Renshaw and Michal Golas in a group of more than 20 riders. That group narrowly made the time cut as the peloton pushed the pace on another fast stage.
André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) outpowered the rest of the sprinters, winning his third stage of this year’s Tour and marking himself as the new fast man to beat on the pro road circuit in the process.
Forced to withdraw from the 2014 Tour owing to injury, Cavendish, known as the Manx Missile, broke a two year Tour drought by winning Stage 7's sprint in Fougères, but he misfired in the earlier stages of the race, unable to overcome his rivals in the way he was once known for.
"I was up last night with stomach problems,” the 30-year-old said after another stage to forget. “In terms of the team's tactics, we prayed it would be an easy start. But we had the plan to get guys in the breakaway anyway.”
While Cavendish was notably absent from the front of the race, Etixx-QuickStep riders Matteo Trentin, Michael Kwiatkowski, and Rigoberto Uran entered a large original breakaway, and Zdeněk Štybar launched a late race attack to animate 183km rolling stage.
“I felt empty at the start,” said Cavendish. “It's a shame because I was going good in the last couple of days. I had Mark Renshaw and Michal Golas with me, and we thought there was a chance we could come back.
“But once Katusha got on the front, and the TV cameras realise there's a chase happening and so go to the front of the peloton, you know it's going to be a long day for us guys behind.
“After about 30 kilometres we knew it was about surviving the day. We knew there wasn't a chance to win with me. But we knew there were guys that were in the break, which is really good.”
While there are certainly more wins to come for the once prolific sprinter and 2011 world road race champion, Cavendish's performance at this year’s Tour has fans of the sport wondering if Stage 15’s stomach issues are simply a sign of a bad year for Cavendish, or if his time in the limelight is coming to a close.
“It was a hard day for us, but I'm still in Le Tour de France. I'm looking forward to just trying to get to Paris and I hope I am not ill in the next days," he said.
Etixx-QuickStep looks next to the 201km Stage 16, from Bourg-de-Péage to Gap. This could be another stage that favours a breakaway, with two Category 2 climbs at 130km and the 189km mark. There is a descent into the finish and if the breakaway comes back, sprinters who successfully stay with the peloton could have their say in the finale.