12 Jul 2009

Italian holds on to Tour de France lead

5:37 am on 12 July 2009

Little-known Italian Rinaldo Nocentini battled to retain the Tour de France yellow jersey after the eighth stage on Saturday won by Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez.

Paris-Nice champion Sanchez proved the wiliest from a four-man group which fought almost all the way to the finish after crossing over the summit of the third and last climb, the Col d'Agnes, with a healthy lead.

Nocentini will go into the third and final day of racing in the Pyrenees on Sunday with a six-second lead on pre-race favourite Alberto Contador of Astana, the 2007 champion.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, also of Astana, is third overall at 08sec while two of their main rivals, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, are 1min 49sec and 3:07 behind respectively.

Nocentini took the yellow jersey by surprise after a breakaway on the first day in the Pyrenees on Friday.