Cavendish, who has won 23 stages on the race, came to the 100th edition hoping to build on a successful campaign at the Giro d'Italia where he won five times.
However the Isle of Man rider was not in contention in the opening stage, won by German sprinter Marcel Kittel, and was given little chance to shine on the two, hillier, stages on the French island of Corsica.
After Tuesday's team time trial over 25 km, where Cavendish's Omega-Pharma team were pipped to the victory by 1sec by Orica-GreenEdge, the race resumes Wednesday with a fifth stage which, at 228 km, is the second longest of the race.
Beginning in Cagnes-sur-Mer just outside Antibes, it is long, undulating and will be made even tougher by the likely crosswinds blowing off the coast.
A sprint finish is a possibility, but the fast men of the peloton could be pushed into using up precious reserves on the Col de la Gineste, whose summit is 12 km from the finish line in Marseille.
If they negotiate that ascension successfully their teams will look to wind up the pace in the closing kilometres before preparing the lead-out for their respective sprinters in the finale – a 500-metre long home straight.
Australian Simon Gerrans will start Wednesday's stage as the new race leader following Orica's triumph in the race against the clock and he intends to "keep the yellow jersey for a few days."
The following is an expert video preview of Stage 5, from Global Cycling Network.