Cape Town 14-03-10-Cape Argus Cycle Tour -Riders cycling up Chapmans Peak Picture Brenton Geach

NELSPRUIT – Frenchman Julien Antomarchi won the first stage of the Mzansi Tour after a 164km ride from the Kruger National Park to Nelspruit, in Mpumalanga, on Wednesday.

"I am very happy to have won on my first visit to South Africa," Antomarchi said.

The La Pomme Marseille rider finished the stage in four hours, 20 minutes, 56 seconds (4:20:56), outsprinting South African Robert Hunter, who crossed the line in second place, and Italian Fortunato Baliani who was third.

Veteran rider Hunter, a former stage winner in the Tour de France, is leading the six-man SA National Team in the inaugural event.

"Today was a hard day I had cramps all the way from Sabie," said Hunter, who will wear the African Riders jersey on stage two.

"Tomorrow is a different day and I know what to do."

Antomarchi's teammate, Jose Goncalves of Portugal, broke away early and built up a lead of 26 seconds, just 20 kilometres into the opening leg of the five-day race.

His advantage, however, was slowly chipped away as the peloton caught up with the him just before the first hotspot.

Five riders broke away from the group in the closing stages and aggressively attacked all the way to the finish, opening a five-kilometre gap from the chasing group.

Antomarchi eventually won a tightly contested sprint finish.

Another La Pomme Marseille rider, Antoine Laviev, took the King of the Mountain jersey, while JC Nel of the MTN Qhubeka feeder team led the Young Riders division.

"I am really excited about wearing this jersey and hoping to keep it until the end of the tour," Nel said.

Thursday’s second stage is the longest of the International Cycling Union (UCI) graded tour, a 189km ride from Lydenburg to Middelburg. – Sapa