Nocentini has the day of his life at Tour

Italian Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) celebrates on the podium.

Italian Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) celebrates on the podium. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Italy's Rinaldo Nocentini became the surprise race leader of the Tour de France yesterday in Andorra. He claimed the prestigious yellow jersey from Swiss Fabian Cancellara after his daylong escape group succeeded up the Arcalís climb.

"I thought it would remain only a dream. Instead, today is the most beautiful day of my life," he said of the race leader's yellow jersey, or maillot jaune.

Nocentini (team AG2R), 31, started the day in 32nd and 3:13 behind Cancellara in the overall classification. He formed part of a nine-man escape group at 34 kilometres into the 224-kilometre stage from Barcelona to Arcalís. Being the first mountaintop finish of the 2009 Tour de France, he was not thinking about taking over the race lead.

"I wanted to make the escape, but it was never in my mind to take the yellow jersey. I thought it was possible to arrive with an advantage and fight for a stage win, but not the race lead."

Behind their escape, race favourites fought to defend themselves against an attack by Alberto Contador. Contador is now second overall at six seconds behind Nocentini.

There are two more days before the rest day in Limoges. Both days include climbs over 2000 metres in elevation, but lack mountaintop arrivals like yesterday.

"The team has Vladimir Efimkin as a captain," said Nocentini. "I will try to defend the jersey, but I did not come here to try to win the Tour. I will try to keep it as long as possible, in these next two days and then to the rest day. Then, there are still two more weeks to try for a stage win."

Nocentini has won 12 races in his 11 years as a professional, including the Méditerranéen Tour's Mont Faron in 2007 and a stage at the Tour of California this year. He is the first Italian to take the leader's yellow jersey since Alberto Elli in 2000. Elli took the lead in Tours and kept it for four days, when Lance Armstrong took over.

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