Cavendish experienced an unforgettable three weeks in France, taking out four stage victorious and the green jersey en route to tying Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour record of 34.
Though the Deceuninck Quick-Step star was unable to grab number 35 on the Champs-Élysées, he remained grateful upon reflection, having received a late call-up to compete after Sam Bennett was ruled out through injury.
“To be honest, I couldn’t quite believe that I was talking about being at the start three weeks ago,” Cavendish told the BBC.
“That seems like an age since we were at the start in Brest. It’s gone quite fast, it’s been a hard three weeks but it’s an absolute fairy-tale, it’s a dream come true.”
“I went from wearing the yellow jersey in the 2016 Tour de France, winning four stages, winning a world championship and being second in the Olympics and having the highs of everything, to not being able to win a race,” he continued.
“I had Epstein Barr virus, I suffered from clinical depression. I had injuries and it was career over.
“Now I have kids and, first and foremost, I wanted to inspire them… what I want to put out is that you should never give up.
“Obviously, over the last couple years, I’ve had it harder but if you keep fighting and you don’t give up, then good things will come from it.”
The 36-year-old lost out to Wout van Aert on Stage 21 – the Jumbo-Visma rider becoming only the third man to complete an impressive triptych at the Tour de France.
And while Cavendish remained coy on his future at La Grande Boucle, he admitted his own mistake prevented him from surpassing van Aert – and Merckx – in Paris.
“I’ve won four times on the Champs Élysées, and it’s the most prestigious finishing straight in the world for a sprinter,” he said.
“It’s not since 2012 that I won there. It would have given me a fifth win and now I’m level on stage wins with the great Eddy Merckx, (but) it would have put me one ahead.
“We were all up for it. I just made a bad decision in the end.
“I left my lead-out man and I thought that I’d find a better way, but I didn’t. I let the boys down and I got boxed in.
“I was disappointed, but the consolation was that I was on the podium in the green jersey.
“It’s been a journey. It’s not been an easy one, but it’s been a beautiful one.”