Cavendish, 35, made his 2021 debut with his old team in the Spanish one-day race on Sunday (February 14), with fortunes turning against Deceuninck in the final.
The tides turned against the Belgian WorldTour squad in the last 20km when their chosen sprinter Alvaro Hodeg was brought down in a pile-up and was forced to abandon the race, with Cavendish then stepping in to take up the sprint.
But just minutes after Hodeg abandoned, Cavendish was taken out of contention due to a puncture on the final lap in Roquetas del Mar.
In true Deceuninck fashion, Frenchman Florian Sénéchal was quickly able to jump into the leader’s position and sprinted to an impressive second-place finish behind winner Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos).
In an Instagram post, shared the day after the race, Cavendish said: “First race back with The Wolfpack was bittersweet. We had two options for the sprint and both of us were out within 1km of each other just 15km from the finish.
“I punctured, but I can only count myself fortunate compared to Alvaro Hodeg‘s crash. He’s banged up but will be okay.
“But it just shows the strength of Deceuninck – Quick-Step that Florian Sénéchal thought quick to take up the sprint, getting a nice podium in 2nd spot.
“What an absolute dream to be back racing with these boys. Felt like a pure bike racer again. Loved every single moment.
“Congratulations to Giacomo Nizzolo, so strong my friend.”
Cavendish tried to chase back on after his puncture, but eventually finished 1-36 down on the leaders in 94th place.
Sénéchal said: “It wasn’t planned that I would do the sprint today, as normally I should have been the last guy in Alvaro’s train.
“Then Mark too had that problem, so from that moment on it was me who was going to do the sprint. I wasn’t too sure of myself, as I had already lost some energy controlling the race and protecting Alvaro, but I could still produce a good turn of speed and take an unexpected second.”
Cavendish has returned to Patrick Lefevere’s team for 2021, having race with the squad between 2013 and 2015.
His next scheduled race is the sprinter’s Classic Scheldeprijs in April.