The new Astana Qazaqstan rider was part of a 13-rider group that broke free with 30km to go, and contested a reduced bunch sprint on the line in the coastal city of Al Mirfa.
Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny) fought out the victory, with the race jury giving the win to the former following a review of the photo finish images.
Asked about the race finale, Cavendish said: “I was squeezed a bit on the last corner, but still did my best in the sprint, finishing on the podium, and that’s not bad.
“Actually, I am happy I was there for the sprint, with my form and with the support of Cees [Bol] in the final.”
The British road champion’s team-mate, Cees Bol, was the only other Astana Qazaqstan rider to make the front group when the peloton splintered early in the race. The Dutchman was also part of the winning 13-rider move, where he took up his duty of sheltering the Manxman.
“I didn’t have to pull in my group,” Cavendish said. “When we came back together, I just jumped on the wheel of Cees, following him in the group. He is a great rider just to stay behind on his wheel.
“There was a right-side split in the group and the riders with GC ambitions worked hard in front, trying to keep the second group away. I just stayed there ready for the sprint.”
Also speaking after the first stage, Bol said he felt he could have performed his role “a bit better” in the race’s closing moments.
“We [Cavendish and I] quickly spoke to each other just to make a short plan,” the 27-year-old said. “In the sprint, I think I still can do some details a bit better, but in general it went good and we got a nice result.”
Cavendish’s third place is his best result since joining Astana Qazaqstan, trumping his previous best of 21st on the first day of the Tour of Oman.
Six stages still remain at the UAE Tour, including three likely sprint finishes, where Cavendish will be hoping to score a maiden victory under his new team. "It's good to try and get the ball rolling early in the year," he told the media at a press conference on Sunday.
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