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Leonardo Piepoli of Italy reacts as he crosses the finish line ahead of his teammate Juan Jose Cobo Acebo of Spain on Monday. ((Laurent Rebours/Associated Press))

A bruised and sore Cadel Evans of Australia took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Monday, after Leonardo Piepoli of Italy won a punishing climb through the Pyrenees to capture the 10th stage.

Evans, one of the race favourites, entered the stage six seconds behind Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg. Kirchen had worn the yellow jersey the previous four days.

Evans beat him by more than two minutes despite aches and cuts from a nasty crash Sunday.

"I thought my Tour was finished yesterday," said Evans, whose eyes welled up with tears as he donned the yellow jersey.

This was the first time he has held the Tour lead, having finished second behind Alberto Contador of Spain last year. Evans emerged with a one-second lead over Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished ahead of Evans but had trailed the Australian by 1:50 coming into the stage.

Riders have their first of two rest days Tuesday. The three-week race finishes in Paris on July 27.

Most of the top favourites distanced themselves from the main pack in the 156-kilometre stage from Pau to Hautacam.

Piepoli crossed the line a second ahead of his Saunier Duval teammate, Juan Jose Cobo Acebo of Spain. Schleck was far behind in third, with Evans in a trailing pack with the other main contenders.

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 lost precious minutes.

History may work in Evans' favour. In the three Tours with a stage finishing at the Hautacam, the rider who emerged with the yellow jersey after the gruelling 14-kilometre ascent kept the lead all the way to the finish: Miguel Indurain in 1994, Bjarne Riis in 1996 and Lance Armstrong in 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 18-kilometre Tourmalet pass. The favourites 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.