After a perfect leadout, Kittel hit the front of the race with 250 metres to go and was never headed as Cavendish, stripped of support, dug deep to pass three riders ahead of him but unable to catch the fourth before the line.
“We stayed calm in the last kilometers. Our plan was to come to the front after the last roundabout and we did it," Kittel said.
"The boys rode smart taking advantage of the tailwaind, they brought me in an excellent position, and I just took the opportunity. It’s the best possible start.
“I’m really happy for today’s victory. I’m extremely satisfied with the job and the lead-out of my teammates, they were perfect, had a great timing and gave it all for me. I want to thank them for that, this is their victory as well. We showed we are really strong and I’m happy that I won also for them.”
Soon after the start, six riders formed a breakaway as they joined forces after two separated attempts to ride the peloton off. Loic Vliegen (BMC), Marc Soler (Movistar), Martin Mortensen (One Pro), Soufiane Haddi (Skydive Dubai), Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk) and Jesus Rubio (Al Nasr) maintained a high speed - close to an average 47km/h - with an advantage of nearly 3min 30sec for the majority of the stage over the pack mostly led by Etixx-QuickStep and Astana.
Haddi won both of the day’s two intermediate sprints to claim the UAE flag jersey. The second sprint came with just 10km to go, while the peloton was on the edge of reeling in the escapees.
The inevitable bunch gallop saw the obvious superiority of the Etixx-QuickStep team who gave Kittel the dream leadout he was hoping for in joining the Belgian outfit during last year's transfer window.
While still early in the season, Kittle's win and Cavendish's strong comeback from a difficult position, indicated both riders are on target for their big goals later in the season.
"I’m obviously disappointed not to win today, but I’ve taken a lot of positives from the race," Cavendish said.
:The Team Dimension Data boys took control and rode brilliant all day to set up a sprint finish. When I saw Etixx had a lot of guys in the final, I wanted Kittel’s wheel, but so did the other sprinters.
"In the end I started from too far behind Marcel in the sprint but to close one and a half bike lengths on him in the final, I’m pretty happy with my condition and with the work the boys did for me today. I’m sorry I couldn’t pay them back with the win, but we’ll keep trying."