HAUTACAM, France – A bruised and sore Cadel Evans of Australia took the yellow jersey Monday at the Tour de France after Leonardo Piepoli of Italy won a punishing climb through the Pyrenees to capture the 10th stage.
Evans, the 31-year-old Silence Lotto leader and one of the favorites, seized the race lead from Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg and has a one-second lead over Frank Schleck, another Luxembourg rider.
Evans took the lead a day after crashing badly in Sunday's stage, leaving him coated with cuts and causing him to momentarily fear his Tour might be over.
"Yesterday, I was at what's for me been my Tour low. And today, up until this point in the Tour, it's been my Tour high," Evans said. "It's a bit an emotional roller coaster to say the least."
Evans' eyes welled with tears as he donned the yellow jersey after the race. It was the first time he has ever held the Tour lead, having finished second behind Alberto Contador of Spain last year.
"I still can't believe it," he said. "I couldn't believe it now and I couldn't believe it then on the podium."
Evans will take the lead into the first two rest days Tuesday. The three-week race finishes in Paris on July 27, and he says he wants to wear the yellow jersey until then.
Evans rarely attacked the other favorites, who distanced themselves from the main pack in the 97-mile stage from Pau to Hautacam. The stage featured the passes of Tourmalet and Hautacam — climbs so hard they are beyond classification.
Piepoli finished a split second ahead of Saunier Duval teammate Juan Jose Cobo Acebo of Spain. Schleck was third, 28 seconds back, and Evans and several other title threats trailed 2 minutes, 17 seconds behind.
Evans came into the stage six seconds behind Kirchen, who struggled up the Hautacam and finished 4:19 off Piepolo's pace — falling to seventh overall and ending his four-day run in yellow.
Christian Vande Velde, the Garmin-Chipotle team leader who kept in Evans' bunch, held third place — 38 seconds back. Denis Menchov, the rider Evans says he fears most, also kept up with the Australian and is 57 seconds back in fifth. Carlos Sastre is sixth, 1:28 back.
The day's biggest loser was Alejandro Valverde, the Spanish national champion seen as a potential title threat. He couldn't keep up with his main rivals in the first climb up Tourmalet and continued to lose time. He finished 5:52 behind Piepoli and trails Evans by 4:41.
"It's finished for the podium," Caisse d'Epargne sporting director Eusebio Unzue said, referring to Valverde's chances of a top-three finish.
History may work in Evans' favor. In the three Tours with a stage finishing at the Hautacam, the rider who emerged with yellow jersey after the grueling 8.9-mile ascent kept the lead all the way to the finish: Miguel Indurain (1994), Bjarne Riis (1996) and Lance Armstrong (2000)
"Like the others who took the yellow jersey on the Hautacam, I hope I can continue in it," Evans said.
Remy di Gregorio, a Frenchman who crashed out of his first Tour last year with a broken elbow, led the pack over the 11-mile Tourmalet pass. The favorites ultimately overtook di Gregorio early in the climb up the Hautacam with less than eight miles to go.
Britain's Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia, who won the fifth and eighth stages, and Danny Pate of the United States crashed early in the stage. They got back on their bikes, and Cavendish was treated by the race doctor for an injured left shoulder.
Yury Trofimov of Russia quit the race because of a cold and fatigue, Bouygues Telecom sporting director Didier Rous said. The field now has 169 riders, 11 fewer than at the start.