Jan 21 (Reuters) - Local favourite Simon Gerrans outsprinted Andre Greipel to claim the first stage of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday and get his bid for a third crown off to a perfect start.
Fresh from his Australian Open Road Race triumph earlier this month, the Orica-GreenEdge rider crossed the 135 kilometre stage with a time of three hours 20 minutes and 34 seconds after a stunning uphill sprint.
"I guess I've surprised a few, myself included," said the 2006 and 2012 winner. "Obviously Andre (Greipel) is one of the fastest sprinters around.
"I had to sprint really late because of the head wind (and) looking towards the end of the week, it might have been better if Andre had the lead but we've seen in the past few years that this race is won or lost by seconds, so you have to take every opportunity."
German Greipel said the course through the Barossa wine-growing region did not suit his style.
"It was a perfect finish for Gerro (Gerrans) today," said the Lotto-Belisol rider. "The gearing was just too hard for me today.
"It wasn't a bunch sprint today, it was very hard today, and I am no climber. I tried to go up as fast as possible, so it's a good sign that the condition is there but the headwind played against us today," added the 2008 and 2010 overall winner.
Australian Steele Von Hoff was happy with his third place in the opening stage which went ahead after a nearby bushfire was contained.
"The sprint was very hard. I didn't quite have the legs to come around Gerro (Gerrans). The legs are going well, so we're hoping for a good week," said the Garmin-Sharp rider.
Wednesday's second stage will see the riders negotiate a 150 kilometre route from Prospect, through the Adelaide Hills to the finish in Stirling. (Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Patrick Johnston)