CHAMPERY, Switzerland (AFP) - Canada's David Veilleux of Europcar won the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, a 121km ride around Champery on Sunday.
The 25-year-old took the leader's jersey after coming home almost two minutes ahead of the peloton, with Belgian Gianni Meersman coming in second ahead of Dutchman Tom-Jelte Slagter and Australia's Richie Porte.
While Veilleux's team are not expecting him to challenge for overall success a week from now, they are hoping to keep hold of the leader's jersey for a few days.
"We'll defend the jersey and we hope to keep it until Wednesday's time trial," said sports director Andy Flickinger. "Now it's a bonus for the team."
In a stage that began and ended in Switzerland but was raced for the majority in France, Veilleux escaped just 3km in, accompanied by Thomas Damuseau, Jean-Marie Bideau and Ricardo Garcia.
At one point, the front runners had a lead of over 10 minutes before Veilleux left his fellow escapees behind on the Col du Corbier climb with 47km left.
World time-trial champion Tony Martin of Germany launched a counter-attack but was caught in the final 15km.
Veilleux proved durable on the final two climbs, holding on to the majority of his lead at that stage, 3min 20sec with 20km to go.
The pace was fast enough to leave American Andrew Talansky and Norwegian champion Thor Hushovd trailing in behind the peloton by around 8min and 15min respectively.
But the main challengers didn't buckle as Chris Froome came in a place behind his Sky team-mate Porte with Alejandro Valverde eighth and Alberto Contador 11th.
Monday's second stage will see the peloton ride over a hilly 191km from Chatel to Oyonnax.