Involved in a 220-km breakaway with eight companions, the 31-year-old from Tuscany finished fourth in the longest stage of this Tour and held enough time at the finish to seize the overall lead from Swiss Fabian Cancellara.
The last Italian lead the Tour was Alberto Elli in 2000. Overall, Nocentini heads Spain’s 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador by six seconds, while seven-times champion Lance Armstrong is third, a further two seconds adrift.
“When I joined the break after just four kilometres, I had no intention of taking the jersey,” Nocentini said.
“This is my first Tour and I came here to win a stage,” said the rider from Arezzo, who has won only 12 minor races in the pro ranks after being considered one of the best juniors of his generation.
“The yellow jersey is every rider’s dream and I took it on my first Tour. I was pretty confident on the last climb until Contador made his blistering attack. It was close but I’m a happy man now,” he said.
Not a real climber, the Tuscan knows his yellow jersey hangs by a thread.
“I don’t care if I keep it one, two or three days. Just to hold it once is enough,” he said.
The AG2R team leader, known as a bon viveur, will in any case celebrate in his hotel this evening.
“I come from Arezzo, which is a wine region and I love red wine and partying,” he said.