As the fog lifted on the long-winded investigations into Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, Cavendish was racking up his first win of the 2012 season, racing at the Tour of Qatar, with new sponsor Team Sky. The world cycling champion may have fallen ill, just hours before the race, but typically he was back to his best almost immediately, winning stage three, in a desert far from his adopted home in rural Essex.
That's why Cavendish is such hot property. His clinical focus ensures that he delivers, time after time. The Isle of Man rider, who Scot David Millar describes as "pretty OCD", is an obsessive, who examines every detail of his performance and then mulls over the smallest detail on the rare occasions when things go wrong.
Fortunately for him, they hardly ever do and 2012 is set to be the most momentous year yet in Cavendish's short but triumphant career. As the Contador and Armstrong doping sagas rumble on, leaving the Spaniard sidelined until August, Cavendish can now claim to be cycling's biggest name.
The 26-year-old enjoyed a golden autumn in 2011, claiming the world road race champion's title and then, a few weeks later, being voted BBC sports personality of the year. His success led to a whirlwind period of unprecedented popularity for British cycling.
"It was really incredible," he said. "I can tell you that in the past the amount of promotional stuff I did at the end of last year would have been very, very tedious, but it was the perfect time to promote cycling – we'd won the worlds, the most successful national team in cycling was British. It had all come together."
Cavendish says he "thoroughly enjoyed" the recognition. "If I'm passionate about something I'll talk all day about it. The people that were interviewing me were genuinely interested in cycling – and that was refreshing."
If all goes to plan in both the Tour de France and the London Olympic road race, by late summer Cavendish could be one of the nation's most feted and highly-paid athletes, easily able to afford the Mercedes Gullwing that he longs to add to his collection of classic cars.
It is a far cry from 2008, when a disaffected Cavendish cut a lonely figure on the flight home from the Beijing Olympics, a Games at which every other member of Team GB's cycling squad picked up a medal. Even so, he denies that he is motivated by that bitter experience.
"I'm not doing the Olympics to set the record straight; it's nothing to do with what happened in Beijing," he said. "In terms of the grand scheme of European cycling, the Olympic road race doesn't mean much. But I'm British and every time I pull on the British jersey it means so much to me. It's completely personal."
Having sprinted to victory in the Olympic test event last summer, Cavendish is the man to beat on The Mall in five months' time. "There's a lot of athletes that want to do well at the Olympics to get endorsements and to get adverts on the telly," he said. "I think that's wrong. I'm not doing it for that; my earning value can't progress that much. I want to win the Olympics for Britain."
Despite his meteoric success, Cavendish – who has homes in Italy, Essex and on the Isle of Man – still flies easyJet and, when out training, drops in at the Blue Egg café in Braintree, just like any of the increasing numbers of "roadies" in Britain.
"I haven't changed as a person," he said, "not at all. Before it was only about cycling, but now there's a lot of commitment that comes with being successful. But without the cycling, I haven't got anything."
Since being voted sports personality of the year, Cavendish has achieved far greater recognition. "I'm proud of playing a part in cycling becoming a mainstream sport," he said. "I could be stopped every minute of every day but if people shake my hand and say 'well done,' it warms me, it's amazing. I'm not just that cyclist who's won stages in the Tour, people recognise me out of my kit, without the helmet and glasses. They know what I've achieved.
"I can't stand celebrity without achievement – things like Big Brother – I can't stand that shit. You'll never see me in a reality TV show – well, only if it's the dancing one. They asked me actually, but you won't see me doing that for a few years."
For now, Cavendish's focus is on the road, rather than the dance floor. His opening forays as world champion will climax in late March on the Ligurian coastline of northern Italy when he attempts to win his second Milan-San Remo, one of the most coveted races in world cycling.
The ever-anxious Cavendish may have won the famous race in 2009, and be far more experienced now, yet he argues that "knowing more leaves you susceptible to worrying about things".
"But I know what the team have to do and I know what I have to do," he said.
Cavendish will be sharing Team Sky leadership duties with Londoner Bradley Wiggins for some races, including the Tour de France. Some, such as former Tour winner Stephen Roche, have described this alliance as "unworkable" and even "a nightmare".
Roche is among the doubters who focus on the lack of clarity over Sky's objectives when it comes to the Tour de France. If Cavendish is winning stages and capable of securing the green points jersey for the second year running, will the team ded-icate themselves to him, or to Wiggins, seen – particularly following the doping ban imposed on Contador – as a contender for a top-three finish?
Wiggins, however, brushes aside the doubts and is relieved to have Cavendish by his side. "We're not getting in each other's way because we're not racing together until the Tour," he said. "I was already speaking to him a year ago about coming to Team Sky. I have always thought he should come here. It's where he belongs."
Wiggins, who almost quit the sport in 2007 after one of his then team-mates was arrested, believes that despite Contador's recent humiliation, cycling's ethical landscape has changed.
"I think less and less about it," he said. "In 2006, 2007, it was a constant frustration in my career. I always felt I was a little bit away from achieving something – I had a right chip on my shoulder back then. I was in a French team and all they used to speak about was who was on drugs. It was self-consuming, a constant 'imagine what you could have done today if they hadn't been there'.
"Here," Wiggins said of Team Sky, "there's no talk of it. We're getting the results so we don't even think about it. Behind us people have fallen away. And the sport as a whole has moved on so much."