Madrid - Belgium's Gianni Meersman won the first stage of the Tour of Catalonia in a sprint finish at the end of the 159km ride to Calella.

The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider just edged out Valerio Agnoli (Cannondale) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the line, with Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins finishing in sixth.

Despite the fact that the first 13 riders to cross the line registered the same time of three hours, 55 minutes and 56 seconds, Meersman receives a 10-second bonus for winning the stage, with Agnoli and Valverde also receiving six and four second bonuses respectively for finishing on the podium.

However, despite failing to finish in the top three it was still a good day for pre-race favourite Wiggins as he and his Sky teammates led a late push on the final descent into Calella that opened up a 28-second lead over the chasing pack.

The early stages of the race saw Christian Meier and Cristiano Salerno break away and build up a commanding lead of eight minutes and forty seconds just 38km in.

However, their lead was slowly chipped away as the Movistar and Omega teams worked the peloton back into contention and eventually caught the front two with 25km to go.

At that point Team Sky then forced the pace over the final climb of the Collsacreu and managed to force a split on the final descent with the breakaway pack accelerating away to build up a significant advantage.

Wiggins was ably supported by his team teammates as they headed towards Calella, but the four-time Olympic champion was followed by the Spanish duo of Valverde and Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez, both of whom are expected to be challenging the Briton for the overall victory come the final stage on Sunday.

It was Meersman though who just managed to nose in front with an impressive late surge to register his first stage victory of the season and take an early lead in the seven-stage tour around the Spanish region. - Sapa-AFP