ARCALIS, Andorra — Lance Armstrong dropped one spot to third place in the Tour de France on Friday, with rival and teammate Alberto Contador breaking away in the final sprint up the mountain to claim second.
Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini captured the yellow jersey from Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara after a punishing climb in the Pyrenees to complete the seventh stage. It was the first time the overall lead changed hands since Cancellara won the opening-day time trial in Monaco.
The 140-mile leg from Spain into Andorra, the first in high mountains of this three-week race, was won by Brice Feillu of France in a solo breakaway.
Armstrong, a seven-time champion coming out of retirement, said he was not as tired as he thought he’d be.
“Overall, I feel pretty good. … Things didn’t quite go according to plan that we set up earlier, but it didn’t matter,” he said. “It was a fine day overall.”
The 37-year-old Texan began the stage a split second off the lead and now trails by eight. Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, is six seconds behind the leader. He finished 3 minutes, 26 seconds after Feillu.
Contador sped ahead in the last 1.2 miles, looking to seize the overall lead. He started the day 19 seconds behind Armstrong and finished 21 seconds before him.
In the final ascent, Armstrong hugged the wheel of Australia’s Cadel Evans, who briefly attacked Armstrong and Contador.
“When you’ve got a rider away, my obligation is to the team,” Armstrong said. “I had to stay on his wheel. You just got to stay on his wheel.”
“That’s not my specialty,” he added. “But it’s not bad at all, all things considered.”
Nocentini and Feillu were part of a nine-man breakaway group that jumped out early in the stage, and the main contenders were happy to let them go because they aren’t considered threats. Feillu, a 23-year-old rider for Agritubel in his first Tour, fled the breakaway group about halfway up the last ascent.
Christophe Kern of France was second, five seconds back. Johannes Froehlinger of Germany was third, 25 seconds behind.
Feillu was hugged in the winner’s circle by older brother Romain, who wore the yellow jersey for a day last year.
“I had confidence in him. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it,” said a teary Romain Feillu.
Nocentini, a 31-year-old cyclist with the AG2R-La Mondiale team, won a stage in Pasadena in the Tour of California this year. He came into the stage trailing Cancellara by 3:13. He is first Italian to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour since Alberto Elli in 2000.
Nocentini finished the stage in fourth place, 26 seconds behind Feillu. Cancellara tumbled out of the top rankings, crossing the finish 9:16 after Feillu in 67th place.
A brief look at Friday’s seventh stage of the Tour de France:
Stage: A 139.2-mile trek featuring five climbs on a route from Barcelona to an uphill finish at the Arcalis ski resort in the Pyrenees
Winner: Frenchman Brice Feillu, of the Agritubel team, in 6 hours, 11 minutes, 31 seconds, following a long breakaway. Feillu spent about 118 miles in the lead group before attacking alone with about 3.5 miles to go
Yellow Jersey: Rinaldo Nocentini of the AG2R-La Mondiale team. Nocentini, who was in the successful breakaway, is the first Italian to wear the yellow jersey on the Tour since Alberto Elli in 2000.
Quote of the Day: ‘When I saw my brother with tears in his eyes, I began to realize what was happening. Emotion overwhelmed me then.’ Brice Feillu, after winning his first stage on his debut Tour. Feillu’s brother, Romain, wore the yellow jersey for one day on last year’s Tour.
Next stage: Saturday’s eighth stage is the second big mountain stage of the Tour, taking the riders on a 109.7-mile ride from La Vella, Andorra, to Saint-Girons, France. It features three difficult climbs.