Vuelta 8: Damiano Cunego takes first mountain stage

Evans takes race lead from Cancellara

Australia's Cadel Evans took the overall lead of the Tour of Spain on Sunday following the race's eighth stage, the first to be held in the mountains, which was won by Italy's Damiano Cunego.

Evans finished the 204.7-kilometre (127-mile) ride between Alzira and Aitana in fourth place, 44 seconds behind the leader, to take the golden jersey from Swiss Olympic time-trial gold medallist Fabian Cancellara, who finished over 25 minutes behind Cunego.

The 32-year-old said he arrived at the Tour of Spain "refreshed" after taking a holiday following his worst performance at the Tour of France where he ended in 30th place.

"I didn't come here with any special motivation for the Tour or with the idea to win something. But things have changed," he said.

Evans, who finished in second place during the 2007 and 2008 Tour of France, is now just ahead of the two other favourites to win the Tour of Spain, Spanish riders Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez, after Sunday's stage.

He is two seconds ahead of Valverde and eight seconds in front of Sanchez.

Cunego sprinted ahead of France's David Moncoutie in the final kilometre to win his first-ever stage of the Tour of Spain in six hours, four minutes and 54 seconds.

"I knew this could be my day. This is an important win for me," he said.

Nicknamed the "Piccolo Principe" or "Little Prince" because he is considered to be one of cycling's biggest prodigies, Cunego won Giro d'Italia at just 22 in 2004.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, who finished second in this year's Tour of France, pulled out of the race at the 88 kilometres mark. Race organisers did not specify the reason for his retirement. Schleck ended the seventh stage on Saturday in 51st position in the overall standings, 3min 10sec off the pace.

The Tour continues on Monday with the 188.8-kilometre ninth stage from Alcoy to Xorret del Cati that includes two category one climbs.

Last year's top three finishers, champion Alberto Contador of Spain, US rider Levi Leipheimer and Carlos Sastre also of Spain, have stayed away this year from the three-week race that ends in Madrid on September 20.

© 2009 AFP

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