ADELAIDE, Australia -- The crowds lined the country roads and small-town streets in rural South Australia state on Tuesday, waving flags and posting signs urging him on.
It's a good thing for Lance Armstrong that he isn't sentimental.
The seven-time Tour de France champion finished deep in the pack in the opening stage of the Tour Down Under, won by Australian sprinter Matthew Goss. The 39-year-old Armstrong said he felt no particular nostalgia as he saddled up for the final race of his international career.
Instead, he said, he felt the same as every other rider in the first race of the 2011 UCI season, an eagerness to "get on the road."
Early in the race and with his Radio Shack team briefly controlling the peleton, Armstrong passed an isolated farm over the gate of which was draped a giant banner reading "Go Lance. Last Chance." Armstrong is competing for the third time in the Tour Down Under and has yet to win a stage, yet he remains the star of the race and the focus of public interest.
His presence also upstaged Goss, the national hero who was aided by an outstanding ride by HTC-Highroad teammate and compatriot Mark Renshaw. Goss beat defending champion Andre Greipel of Germany in a sprint at the end of the 86-mile stage from Mawson Lakes to Angaston.
"The form's obviously pretty good, but after a ride like Mark's it would have been hard not to win," Goss said. "I'd love to win the race overall, but there's a long way to go. It's an ideal start, but there are five stages left so we'll just have to wait and see."
Armstrong's Radio Shack teammate Robbie McEwen of Australia was third. Sprint star Tyler Farrar of the United States was 59th and Mark Cavendish of Britain was 62nd.
After time bonuses, Goss was credited with a time for the stage of 3 hours, 16 minutes, 58 seconds, and leads the general classification by four seconds over Greipel and six over McEwen.
Armstrong, Cavendish and Farrar were among a large group in the field of 133 riders credited with a time 10 seconds off the overall leader.
Goss benefited from an outstanding team ride and showed his exceptional early-season fitness to follow up his win in the tour's prologue criterium on Sunday.
As the peleton hauled in a five-man break which led the field beginning with the 12th lap, Goss maneuvered to the front and followed Renshaw's wheel until he was able to drive ahead of Greipel on the slightly uphill straight to the finish in the main street of Angaston village.
"It's one thing to win," Goss said, "but when you're expected to win, there's a lot more pressure on you."
Greipel congratulated Goss, his former teammate at HTC-Highroad for whom he won the race last year. But the German rider said Goss was favored by Tuesday's uphill finish.
"The faster sprint finishes are coming," Greipel said. "I said before, CV [Cavendish] is not the guy to beat here. It is really Matthew Goss and that's the way it is."
The first stage Tuesday was largely uneventful. Australia's Simon Clarke, Mathieu Perget of France, Euskaltel teammates Miguel Minguez and Jon Izaguirre, and Australian Mitchell Docker broke the field in the only serious attack and stayed away until close to the finish.
They led by as much as 4:05 but were gradually dragged back to the peleton, and in the last couple miles only Clarke and Minguez stayed away.
Eventually, they were swamped by the field and riders from HTC-Highroad, Radio Shack, Omega Pharma-Lotto and Britain's Sky Procycling tried to put their sprinters in a winning position.
Greipel loomed as the bunched field turned into the final straightaway, but Goss managed to drive away to the finish line.
The second stage Wednesday takes riders 91 miles from Tailem Bend to Mannum.