ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Australian rider Simon Gerrans outsprinted Germany's Andre Greipel to win the opening stage of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday, taking an emphatic step toward winning the opening event of cycling's ProTour season for a third time.
A demanding climb up Mengler's Hill 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the end of the 135-kilometer (84-mile) stage from Nurioopta to Angaston took several of the top sprinters out of contention. Greipel stayed near the lead and seemed set for his 15th stage victory in Australia when he hit the front early on the uphill sprint the finish.
Gerrans, who won his home tour in 2006 and 2012, was able to chase Greipel down thanks to a strong leadout from his Orica-GreenEDGE teammate Daryl Impey.
Greipel is also a two-time winner of the tour, winning on general classification in 2008 and 2010, and is a master of the sprint finishes that have often been the staple of the season-opening event. He had to settle for second place, as he did in Sunday's tour prelude in downtown Adelaide in which he was narrowly beaten by compatriot Marcel Kittel.
Australian Steele von Hoff finished third in Tuesday's stage, while Diego Ulissi of Italy was fourth and Maxime Bouet of France fifth.
A lead group of about 50 riders including Tour de France winner Cadel Evans went clear of the peleton after Mengler's Hill. Europcar teammates Yukiya Arashiro of Japan and Bjorn Thurau of Germany attacked on the descent and opened a small lead but were caught one kilometer (half-a-mile) from the finish.
Australians William Clarke and Neil Van Der Ploeg joined in the first breakaway and led for most of the stage. They broke clear of the peleton after two kilometers (1.2 miles) and led by up to 3 minutes, 35 seconds. But the peleton was always confident of gathering them in and they were eventually caught at the 119-kilometer (74- mile) mark.
Mengler's Hill then splintered the peleton, but Gerrans and Greipel were able to remain close enough to the lead to dictate the finish.
A total of 138 riders from 23 countries began the stage through the Barossa Valley wine-growing region. The stage had been in doubt as late as Monday because of bushfires in South Australia state but the fires were contained and the stage was able to go ahead as planned.