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Nocentini saves the yellow jersey

Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale)

Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

It might not be accurate to say that Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) enjoyed his first day in the yellow jersey of Tour de France leader, but he was relieved, at the end of it, to have kept it.

At one point, as Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) thinned out the main group on the climb of the Col d'Agnes by launching a series of attacks, Nocentini seemed to be in major trouble. But as Schleck gave up on his efforts to break clear, and the Astana-led group slowed, Nocentini was paced back by his veteran teammate Stéphane Goubert, and yellow was saved.

Now he believes he can keep it until Monday's rest day, and then "as far as possible."

"Today was a really tough day after my breakaway yesterday," said the Italian. "It was probably the toughest day to be in the yellow jersey. Tomorrow there's the Col du Tourmalet, [which is] a very difficult climb, but it's very far from the finish. I hope there will be a breakaway, and they can fight it out, and I'll be able to keep yellow until the rest day and as far as possible."

AG2R played a shrewd hand by placing Vladimir Efimkin in the break. They gave themselves a reason not to work on the front, as the team defending the yellow jersey would ordinarily be expected to do.

Johan Bruyneel, the Astana director, explained that he wanted the yellow jersey to return to the group on the Agnes, though he admitted that it didn't make much difference in the end, with Astana having to assume the responsibility that should have been AG2R's.

"They didn't do a lot today," said Bruyneel. "They rode smart."

"We spoke before the start," said Nocentini, "we knew it was a difficult first climb and that eventually a breakaway would take off with Efimkin or Goubert. And Efimkin was there, meaning that the team didn't have to work, and Astana had to do most of the work.

"I knew Schleck or [Cadel] Evans would eventually attack on the climb," he continued. "I can't follow those guys, so I remained clam. I had Goubert with me, helping me out, and we caught up before the top of the climb."

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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.

He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi

His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.

Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.