( dpa )- Australia's Tour Down Under came of age Tuesday as riders set off on the first stage of a bicycle race that is the first outside Europe to be accorded ProTour status.
Some of the world's top teams are in Adelaide for the six-day Tour Down Under. More than 130 riders from 22 countries were on the line for an opening stage that covers 129 kilometres and takes the peloton through the picturesque Barossa Valley wine-growing region.
Australian riders Stuart O'Grady, Simon Gerrans and Robbie McEwen are expecting to be on the podium.
"It's really going to be hard to beat the Australians," Caisse D'Epargne team manager Neil Stephens said. "The Australians have been racing right through December and into January, and they're going to be fit and fast."
O'Grady, who rides for Team CSC, won the inaugural Tour Down Under in 1999 and has won it again since then. Credite Agricole rider Gerrans , the 2006 winner, is another favourite .
Unlike the Tour de France and other classics, riders in the Tour Down Under spend each night in Adelaide.
German cyclist Heinrich Haussler is competing for the first time. Born in Australia, he moved to Germany when he was 14 and is on the Gerolsteiner team.
"It's the first time I've raced in Australia since I've been living in Germany," he said. "It's a big thing for me because it's the first ProTour race for this year, and it starts in Australia."
Sean Yates, who has a Tour de France yellow jersey in his cupboard in Northern Ireland, has his baptism as manager with the revamped Astana team. He was previously with the Discovery Channel Team, which has disbanded.