SHEFFIELD, England — Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali outfoxed other Tour de France title contenders to win a hilly second stage through the Yorkshire countryside Sunday, wresting the overall race leader’s yellow jersey.
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 Greg van Avermaet was second and Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland was third, each two seconds behind.
Over the last few miles, several of the pre-race favorites to win the three-week race played a cat-and-mouse game, quickly exchanging leadership of the breakaway bunch. But Nibali, a 29-year-old rider who has won the Italian Giro and Spanish Vuelta, timed his attack perfectly — bursting ahead with about a mile 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 nearly 20 minutes back and lost the yellow jersey that he had captured by winning Stage 1.
Nibali was up front with a bunch, including defending Tour champion Chris Froome of Britain and Spanish two-time winner Alberto Contador — each of whom burst to the front of the escaping bunch near the end. Others in the group included 25-year-old American riders Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen.
‘‘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.’’
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 Peter Sagan is second, van Avermaet is third, while Froome is fifth and Contador trails in eighth.
Massive crowds lined the route from York to Sheffield. One of the British stars in the race, Mark Cavendish, dropped out before the stage after pain from a separated right shoulder sustained in a crash Saturday.England is hosting the first three stages of the three-week race before it enters France.
Monday’s stage should be a far less grueling ride: Riders cover 96 miles from university town Cambridge to London, where the pack will finish on the Mall not far from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.