Limoges - Marcel Kittel said his Tour de France stage win on Tuesday was a relief following a nightmare 2015.
The 28-year-old German was the dominant sprinter in the world through 2013 and 2014, winning four stages at the Tour in each year.
But his 2015 season was wrecked by illness and he wasn't even selected by his then-Giant team to ride the Tour.
Having come second on Saturday's opening stage behind Mark Cavendish, Kittel, now with Etixx, finally got his first Tour stage win since the 2014 finale on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
"I don't know if you can explain emotions, they just come out," he said of the moment he realised he'd won the stage in a photo-finish with Frenchman Bryan Coquard.
"For me the victory means a lot because I know how hard the way back to this moment was after last year, being sick so many times and missing out on the Tour but also other race dates in the year.
"For me personally, it was a huge setback and a difficult moment for me in my career.
"I actively tried to take action to make changes to make improvements for myself to be at the level to win stages on the Tour, and to be successful throughout the season.
"To see it now working so well, although the start of the Tour was not how we (Etixx) wanted it, it's a huge relief.
"I live for my sport and nothing else, although the critics say otherwise, but this shows how much I love my sport."
For Coquard, 24, it was an agonising defeat by barely a centimetre, just a day after finishing third.
"I really believed in my chances. (Team Direct Energie sports director) Jimmy (Engoulvent) yesterday reproached me for not having thrown my bike forward enough," said the Olympic silver medallist from the omnium on the track in London.
"I could see I was making it back but it was not enough. I'm very disappointed but I must not give up. There are still lots of chances left."
Coquard was finishing the fastest but simply could not quite pull past Kittel, whose strength just dragged him over the line to win by a whisker.
"I'm glad that we took things into our own hands. I think I belong with the best (sprinters) now," said Coquard, a track world champion last year in the madison.
"There is no mistake in the sprints, the strongest one wins. I was never before as close to victory but I haven't won yet.
"I'm young but I'm a winner. I have the temperament and I want to win this year on the Tour."
Peter Sagan came third and kept his lead in the yellow jersey competition, as well as snatching back the green points jersey from Mark Cavendish.
He said he was happy for Kittel.
"I started (his sprint) too early, it's hard to keep it going," said the 26-year-old Slovak.
"Marcel was very strong. He's already won a finish like this two years ago in England (when the Tour started in Yorkshire).
"He was strong in this finish. I'm very happy for him because he didn't win yet, so now he's won a first stage here (in 2016).
"He's a good guy, I'm happy also to see different riders in the front other than Mark!"
Having won the first and third stages, Briton Cavendish could finish only eighth.
He was boxed in and said he almost crashed, after which he was hampered by riders in front of him.
"I thought I'd be on Kittel's wheel, but the next thing it was about survival, trying to dodge people going backwards, all the leadout men," said the 31-year-old.
"It wasn't about concentrating on sprinting, but dodging riders."