Cavendish dispelled any doubts - whether in his own mind or others' - over his finishing speed by winning Monday's 207.5-kilometre test from Vise to Tournai.
It was the 21st Tour stage success of his career to move one behind fourth-placed Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade on the all-time list headed by Eddy Merckx with 34.
For Cavendish, whose priority this summer is the Olympic Games road race on July 28, it was also his first Tour success for British squad Team Sky, his first outside of France and a maiden victory as world champion.
With Team Sky's resources concentrated on Bradley Wiggins' overall bid - the Londoner remained seven seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara in second overall - Cavendish was forced to freestyle his way to the line before lunging to the finish ahead of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge).
"We knew it was going to be hard here this year," Cavendish said.
"I always say I wanted to make history. There are not many better ways to make history than by being part of a team winning the Tour de France with a British rider.
"It was always going to be difficult to win stages and if anything it made me more relaxed.
"In the past I always had a dedicated team to a sprinter. With a team I should win most of the time so there was always that pressure to win.
"It's difficult without a team to win here, so I was like 'give it a shot and see what happens, if you don't win, you don't win'. We've got bigger things to try for."
A route made for the fast men swallowed up the day's three-man break with 15km to go before the teams lined up, with all the main protagonists present, including Cancellara, Evans and Wiggins.
Lotto-Belisol moved to the front with 1.5km to go as Cavendish tucked in behind Greipel.
Isolated from his team-mates following early support from Bernhard Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen, Cavendish had to freestyle from wheel-to-wheel in the finale before timing his move to perfection, rounding Greipel with 200metres to go and winning the dash for the line.
In Copenhagen last September, Cavendish had the support of a full team.
On Monday he showed his supreme bike-handling ability to infiltrate other teams' leadout trains to win in the world champion's rainbow jersey.
"Every race since I've won this jersey I've wanted to show this jersey and show why I'm worthy to wear it," Cavendish said.
"I really wanted to do it honour this year and that means winning wherever I can go.
"It's very, very special. Every day in training, every day in racing, maybe once every few minutes I look down, I see the rainbow bands and it gives me a great sense of pride.
"I have massive respect for this jersey, I have massive respect for every rider who has ever worn this jersey."
Cavendish also contested the intermediate sprint, which came 54.5km from the finish, after breakaway trio Christophe Kern (Europcar), Anthony Roux (FDJ-Bigmat) and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) crossed, leaving the first rider of the peloton chasing 13 points.
Cavendish was alone for Team Sky and crossed behind former HTC-Highroad team-mates Goss and Mark Renshaw (Rabobank).
Those 10 points, coupled with 45 at the finish, put Cavendish second in the points classification behind stage one winner Peter Sagan, who will wear the green jersey the Manxman won for the first time in 2011 on Tuesday.
"It's not possible to chase the green jersey alone so I'm just trying to get the stages and then see," added Cavendish, who moved 15 points behind Sagan, who finished sixth on the stage.
"I'll go for the intermediates but I'm not going to chase down breaks to go for it. It's about minimising points lost really."
Of the maillot vert, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said: "It's not something we're going to chase and chase. It's something that if it happens, it happens."
Brailsford was impressed with Cavendish's performance.
Brailsford added: "When everybody else had beefed up their trains with quite clear intent, for him to come here under powered and to do that answers a lot of critics.
"He was maybe nervous about it but we were very, very confident of his ability to be able to find himself in the right position and deliver exactly how he did."
Tuesday's 197km third stage from Orchies to Boulougne-sur-Mer features a punishing six categorised climbs in the final 70km and is likely to produce further drama.