Cavendish awoke to headlines in French sports daily L'Equipe declaring his reign as the pre-eminent sprinter of the day over following Marcel Kittel's third stage win yesterday, but responded with his second win of this 100th Tour, the 25th of his career putting him joint third all-time with Andre Leducq.
"I have incredible respect for this race, more than you can imagine," a beaming Cavendish said. "Just thinking about this race can bring tears to my eyes.
"What makes it so special is the amount of mental stress, the physical stress, and the elation that comes with it.
"Whatever happens it makes every win absolutely special. I could tell you a special story about everyone one of those 25 wins."
What should have been a straightforward flat stage before a bunch sprint finish in Saint-Amand-Montrond was instead an ever-changing drama as crosswinds blew across the roads from Tours, splitting the peloton several times.
Those splits defined the day for all concerned. Where Cavendish latched on to a break from Team Saxo-Tinkoff in the final 30km to ensure he was in position to win, Froome could not follow and saw Albert Contador take 69 seconds out of him.
"I desperately wanted to get on to the Contador move but I was sitting a little too far back," Froome said.
"I was just behind Cav's wheel when he sprinted across. I think he was the last guy to get across and again it's another reminder that this race is 100% open and that there is still everything to race for."
It could have been worse, and certainly was for Alejandro Valverde, who began the day second overall but suffered an ill-timed mechanical problem just as the peloton was parting, and eventually crossed the line almost 10 minutes down - his Tour challenge over.
A new-look general classification shows Froome's advantage has been cut from three minutes 25 seconds to two minutes 28 seconds, the man in second now the little-fancied Bauke Mollema - who followed Cavendish and Peter Sagan home in third place today.
Contador lurks in third, two minutes and 45 seconds back, which could make for an interesting night on Friday as Team Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff share a small hotel in Le Veurdre before Saturday's stage to Lyon.
The success of Saxo-Tinkoff's burst was not solely down to the winds and good timing.
Further questions were on Friday being asked of the strength of Team Sky following the loss of Edvald Boasson Hagen to a broken shoulder last night, as Richie Porte was dropped, not for the first time, and Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas were unable to control the break - despite more heroics from Thomas on his cracked pelvis.
"Eddy's a huge part of the team and we could have really done with him on a stage like today," Froome said.
"The same can be said for Vasili Kiryienka who we lost earlier. They are both really strong engines and the team is definitely weakened without those guys."
While Froome is left licking some wounds, Cavendish can celebrate a much-needed second stage win of the Tour.
On Thursday he had blown a perfect lead-out from his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team to allow Marcel Kittel to steam past at the line in Tours, just the latest frustration of a turbulent Tour.
Little had gone right bar that day in Marseille. He had hoped to wear the yellow jersey on the opening day, but was caught in the chaos caused by Orica GreenEdge's bus crash, then had two crashes of his own - the second of which saw him sprayed with urine by an angry spectator during Wednesday's time trial as he was blamed for felling Tom Veelers.
L'Equipe today declared "Cavendish's reign is over" and he almost seemed resigned to that fate before the start of today's stage when he said:
"Maybe I am just getting old. It's the cycle of life."
But today was the 28-year-old's final chance of a victory until the traditional sprint finish in Paris - where Cavendish has won four times on the trot - and if he was going to keep alive his record of multiple stage wins in every Tour, he was running out of time.
In his career, he has never won fewer than three stages of a Tour, and that number came last year when he could blame Team Sky's focus on the general classification for not living up to his usual even loftier standards.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step, in contrast, are built to his specifications.
They delivered him to five stage wins and the points classification in this year's Giro d'Italia and Cavendish admitted he had not been doing their efforts justice here until today.
"The guys were tactically brilliant yesterday [Thursday] with 110 per cent commitment and I let them down at the end," he said.
"For them to come back today [Friday] and ride even harder even sooner just shows what a special group of team-mates I have.
"The race organisers gave the combative award to the whole team today [Friday] - I just picked it up on their behalf - and that speaks volumes about the incredible ride the guys did."