The Astana team leader pointed a finger skyward as he burst out of a breakaway bunch at the end of the 125-mile ride over nine rolling ascents and through the heath of northern England. Belgium's
Over the last six kilometers, several of the favorites to win the three-week series of races played a cat-and-mouse game, quickly exchanging leadership of the breakaway bunch. But Nibali, a 29-year-old rider who has won both the Italian Giro and Spanish Vuelta, timed his attack perfectly — bursting ahead with less than 2 kilometers to go and holding off surging chasers.
"It was a fabulous day for me, I led a good action," said Nibali, who collected his first Tour stage win and first yellow jersey. "It was difficult. There was a lot of headwind … I had the luck to attack at the right moment."
Marcel Kittel of Germany, a powerful sprinter who often struggles on climbs, trailed by nearly 20 minutes and lost the yellow jersey that he had captured by winning Stage 1.
Nibali was up front with a bunch including defending Tour champion
"It was a very hard day but the home crowd support was great," said Froome, the Team Sky leader. "I'm tired, but I hope everyone's tired after a day like today."
Tinkoff-Saxo Bank leader Contador said: "Today was a day when you really needed to be careful … There are thousands and thousands of people. It's great but it's also dangerous."
Overall, Nibali leads 20 other riders by two seconds: Slovakia's
Massive crowds lined the route from York to Sheffield. One of the British stars in the race,
While Yorkshire doesn't have ascents on a par with the Alps or Pyrenees in France, riders faced nine low- to mid-grade climbs. The hardest was the 4.7-kilometer Holme Moss pass, and the steepest was also the shortest: The 800-meter Jenkin Road pass, with an average gradient of 10.8% only 5 kilometers from the finish line.
England is hosting the first three stages of the three-week race before it enters France.
New roads for cycling's greatest race also mean new audiences, some of whom are so enthusiastic and eager for a "selfie" with the pack that they don't realize the hazards of getting too close to the riders as they go by. There are simply too many people for barriers that race organizers erect in crowded spots, making the course more treacherous for the riders.
Kittel and Giant-Shimano teammate Koen De Kort of the Netherlands were among those who crashed during the day. Team sporting director Christian Guiberteau said the German sprint star was unharmed, sustaining "just a little crash because there are so many people on the roadside."