Adelaide - Two-time race champion Andre Greipel of Germany took the leader's ochre jersey at the Tour Down Under on Tuesday in a crash-marred start to the season's opening World Tour race.
Lotto sprinter Greipel, who won the pre-race criterium on Sunday, won a photo finish decision from veteran Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre to set out his stall for a third overall win.
"I am lucky that I won today, there was a massive crash with 800m to go," said Greipel.
"My pedal got touched, and I lost positions from about fifth to 20th, but I managed to bridge the gap."
Now a World Tour event, the Tour Down Under offers ranking points to individual riders and their teams. And some believe that led to some erratic behaviour in the lead-up to a dramatic bunch finish.
As several teams jostled in a bid to put their main sprinters in a winning position ahead of the home straight, one rider's mistake caused a whole bunch to hit the deck.
Yet some later claimed that wasn't the main reason around 15 riders crashed just under a kilometre from the finish line of the 149km ride from Prospect to Clare, during which temperatures were said to have reached 51 degrees Celsius.
Australian Matt Goss, hoping to score a first win for his new Australian team GreenEdge, said he saw some questionable tactics.
"There were no doubt some idiots fighting for position who were going to do nothing at the finish (line) anyway," said Goss, the Milan-SanRemo champion who finished runner-up here last year.
"Some of these guys have no care for what happens to themselves or what happens to everyone else."
Briton Adam Blythe also complained of suspect tactics.
"Two Vacansoleil riders caused the crash," he said.
"To have two team-mates causing a crash when they're not fighting against each other is just stupid.
"Under-eights racing don't do that, it's just ridiculous. They're not riding with their eyes closed."
One of the Vacansoleil riders in question, Kenny Van Hummel, took skin off his left arm, buttocks and legs after hitting the tarmac.
After his team claimed their two riders had been brought down by another, unidentified cyclist, Van Hummel said: "Someone came from the left and the right, I couldn't react and someone rode me off the bike.
"It was unbelievable."
Van Hummel said the World Tour status of the race had perhaps been a factor.
"It's the first WorldTour race so everybody's trying to score points, and everybody wants to show his level and we're all motivated, but that means people are taking risks," he added.
"Some people are trying for the sprint and they don't yet have the level for it."
Veteran Frenchman Frederic Guesdon, who was caught up in the crash, was left with a suspected fractured hip.
Organisers said the FDJ-BigMat rider had been taken to Royal Adelaide Hospital for scans. If conclusive, it could end the Frenchman's career.
A former Paris-Roubaix winner, Guesdon was scheduled to hang up his bike for good after the famous French classic in April.
Results from the first stage of the Tour Down Under World Tour event, a 149km race between Prospect and Clare on Tuesday:
1. Andre Greipel (GER) Lotto-Belisol 4hr 33min 40sec, 2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/LAM) same time, 3. Yauheni Hutarovich (BLR/FDJ) s.t., 4. Fabio Sabatini (ITA/LIQ) s.t., 5. Daniele Bennati (ITA/RSH) s.t., 6. Chris Sutton (AUS/SKY) s.t., 7. Jonathan Cantwell (AUS/SAX) s.t., 8. Xavier Florencio (ESP/KAT) s.t., 9. Mark Renshaw (AUS/RAB) s.t., 10. Manuel Belletti (ITA/ALM) s.t., 11. Tom Palmer (AUS/UNI) s.t., 12. Michael Matthews (AUS/RAB) s.t., 13. William Bonnet (FRA/FDJ) s.t., 14. Romain Lemarchand (FRA/ALM) s.t., 15. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t.
1. Andre Greipel (GER) Lotto-Belisol 4hr 33min 30sec, 2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/LAM) at 04secs, 3. Martin Kohler (SUI/BMC) same time, 4. Yauheni Hutarovich (BLR/FDJ) s.t., 5. Rohan Dennis (AUS/UNI) 7, 6. Eduard Vorganov (RUS/KAT) 8, 7. Marcello Pavarin (ITA/VCD) 9, 8. Fabio Sabatini (ITA/LIQ) 10, 9. Daniele Bennati (ITA/RSH) s.t., 10. Chris Sutton (AUS/SKY) s.t., 11. Jonathan Cantwell (AUS/SAX) s.t., 12. Xavier Florencio (ESP/KAT) s.t., 13. Mark Renshaw (AUS/RAB) s.t., 14. Manuel Belletti (ITA/ALM) s.t., 15. Tom Palmer (AUS/UNI) s.t.