Astana's Vincenzo Nibali crosses the line in Sheffield to win the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France.

Astana's Vincenzo Nibali crosses the line in Sheffield to win the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France. Photo: Bryn Lennon

Sheffield: Italian Vincenzo Nibali claimed the overall lead after a late attack earned him victory in the second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.

The Astana rider powered away about two kilometres from the finish and held off the peloton, with Belgian Greg van Avermaet and Pole Michal Kwiatkowski finishing second and third respectively.

There was no photo finish necessary after Vincenzo Nibali's bold attack in the closing kilometres.

There was no photo finish necessary after Vincenzo Nibali's bold attack in the closing kilometres. Photo: Alix Guigon

The favourites showed their muscles in the finale, with Alberto Contador and defending champion Chris Froome attacking on the last climb, but Nibali's move was the smartest.

"It was a fantastic day, I made a good move. It was tough because there was a lot of headwind. The last 1.5km was really long," said Nibali.

"It will be tough to keep it until Paris, but we know it is going to be hard."

The peloton rides the cobbles of Haworth during the second stage of the Tour de France.

The peloton rides the cobbles of Haworth during the second stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Gareth Copley

Froome said he was looking to avoid trouble.

"The goal was to be in front to stay out of trouble. It was a hard day but the support was incredible," he said. "I am tired, but I hope everyone is tired after a day like this."

Contador said the final kilometres had been an opportunity to test the strength of the leading contenders.

Spectators make themselves comfortable on Holm Moss in Yorkshire for Stage 2.

Spectators make themselves comfortable on Holm Moss in Yorkshire for Stage 2. Photo: Ian Forsyth

"The most important thing was to be well placed (in the peloton), there will be a lot more stages to attack," he said.

Nibali leads pre-stage favourite Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who took fourth place, by two seconds.

Froome and Contador are also two seconds off the pace, in fifth and eighth respectively.

Defending champion Chris Froome, of Team Sky, attacks on the final climb into Sheffield.

Defending champion Chris Froome, of Team Sky, attacks on the final climb into Sheffield. Photo: Doug Pensinger

Nibali snatched the yellow jersey from the shoulders of German Marcel Kittel, who had virtually no chance of retaining his lead for the hilly terrain did not suit him.

Kittel fell off his bike early on but did not sustain any injury, according to his Giant Shimano team.

It was also a disappointing day for Australia's ORICA-GreenEDGE rider Simon Gerrans, placing well back on a stage he'd hoped to win. His teammate, the Swiss rider Michael Albasini, ended the day on a brighter note, sitting fourth in the General Classification. 

After a quiet start, things got serious at Holme Moss, a 4.7km climb at an average gradient of seven per cent with about 60,000 spectators lining the road, according to local police.

Frenchman Blel Kadri, who featured in the morning's breakaway, was first to the top and was chased by a group of five that included German Tony Martin.

They were all reined in with 36km left, leaving the top guns battling it out for victory in a lively finale.

The stage started without Briton Mark Cavendish, the sprint specialist having been ruled out injured after crashing on Saturday.

Reuters