Two-time champ Gerrans off to a flyer

CYCLING: Australian road race champion Simon Gerrans made a stunning start in his bid to become the first three-time winner of the Tour Down Under after winning the opening stage in South Australia yesterday.

The Orica-GreenEDGE team leader and race favourite proved he was the man to beat after he outsprinted German Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) to claim the 135km ride from Nurioopta to Angaston.

Fellow Aussie Steele Von Hoff (Garmin Sharp), the national criterium champion, finished third, with Australia's 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans (BMC), 11 seconds off the pace.

Gerrans, who won the race in 2006 and 2012, finished in 3hrs 20mins 34secs. The Victorian will start today's stage - a 150km ride from Prospect to Stirling - with a five-second lead over Greipel.

"I guess I surprised a few today, myself included," Gerrans said. "That was a tough climb (up Menglers Hill). Everyone was tired coming to the finish and that may have taken some sting out of his (Greipel's) legs."

Gerrans also won two time bonuses during the stage and said that could be decisive at the end of the six-stage race.

Such is the growing popularity of the race, 23 countries are represented in the 138-strong field. Australia leads the way with 36, followed by France (20) and Italy (15). The field includes 45 riders who competed in last year's Tour de France.