Adelaide, Australia – Australia's Simon Gerrans timed his sprint finish to perfection edging out German Andre Greipel to win the first stage of the Tour Down Under in South Australia on Tuesday.
Gerrans stayed on Greipel's wheel on the uphill homestretch into the South Australian town of Angaston, then pounced in the last few metres to beat the big German by half a wheel.
Greipel had been on track to win his 15th stage at the season-opening UCI World Tour event, but the renowned sprinter misjudged the final stretch and could only watch as Gerrans swept past.
“I surprised a few people today, myself included,” Gerrans said.
“Obviously he's one of the fastest guys going around so I'm pretty pleased to get over him on the line.”
The Orica GreenEdge rider will take the ochre leader's jersey into the second stage of the race from Prospect to Stirling on Wednesday, leading Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) by five seconds thanks to time bonuses.
Third place went to Australia's Steel Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharpe), while general classification contenders Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Robert Gesink (Belkin), Javier Moreno (Movistar) and Team Sky's Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte all finished in the leading group.
The race started in perfect conditions in the Barossa Valley town of Nuriootpa, with Australian riders Will Clarke (Drapac) and Neil van der Ploeg (UniSA) attacking from the outset.
The pair opened a four-minute lead at one point but the peloton began reeling them in as they approached the climb up Menglers Hill, 12 kilometres from the finish.
Lotto-Belisol's Adam Hansen attacked towards the top of the hill and won the King of the Mountain points, then went again as he tried in vain to make a decisive break.
Team Europcar's Yukiya Arashiro and Bjorn Thurau went off at the front and opened a 20-second gap.
They were swallowed up 900 metres out and the Lotto-Belisol team moved ominously to the front to put Greipel in perfect position, only for Gerrans to grab the stage on the line.
Gerrans said the steep climb up Menglers Hill had taken its toll on his German rival.
“It was a tough final Ä everyone was pretty tired coming to the finish,” Gerrans said.
“I thought that (Menglers Hill) might have taken the sting out of his legs just a little bit. I left my sprint really late, there was also a headwind, and I was just able to get by him.”
Evans, who finished ninth, said it was plain that Gerrans and the Orica team were the ones to beat this year, but he was disappointed with his own result.
“I was there at the final but I was bit disappointed,” the former Tour de France winner said.
“I would have liked to have been a bit closer to the bonus seconds in a finish like that.
“(It wasn't) as good a start as I would liked to have gotten off to, but it was the first day of what is going to be a pretty intense week of racing I think.” – Sapa-AFP