Liquigas-Doimo's Peter Sagan claimed his second consecutive stage win of the Amgen Tour of California, proving once again to have the fastest kick at the end of a hard stage.
The young rider is one of the few able to stay with the climbers when it matters most. His victory, the third consecutive win for his Italian team, gave Sagan a time bonus that moved him up into third place overall.
After seven classified climbs and 217.7km, Sagan topped United Healthcare-Maxxis' Rory Sutherland and yellow jersey Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) in the literally breathtaking sprint at 7,000 feet.
"I'm very happy - I already had one win, but to add another - I'm really happy," said Sagan, speaking in Italian through a translator. "It's never easy to win, even against climbers. You never take it for granted, but I know I'm pretty fast from a small group."
He pulled himself ahead of Radioshack's Levi Leipheimer on the general classification, but played down his abilities in the test of truth. "My time trial abilities in a longer time trial like this are not quite honed yet. I'll take it day by day and see tomorrow," he said.
His previous four victories in his neo-professional season have surely proven Sagan as a rider not just for the future, but of the present. But the Slovakian said he is still aiming to improve and looking for good performances at the Tour de Suisse next month.
Leipheimer stayed in close contact with his general classification rivals, taking fourth in the sprint from a select group of contenders and their key helpers.
Rogers eked out four seconds over David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) with the time bonus for third place, and now heads into the Los Angeles time trial with a razor thin edge over two of the world's best time trialists.
"Sagan showed his class by winning two stages including the queen stage," said Rogers. "I saw him there at the top of the last climb and started concentrating on second. A guy that's as fast as him in the finish is always hard to beat.
"The last 800m were pretty tough, it was kind of a headwind and uphill," Rogers said. "After 14,000 of vertical gain on the stage and six hours on the course, I found myself on the front. I didn't want to go too early because if you go too early all it takes is one guy from behind. I kind of waited until 300m and Peter opened his sprint."
Sagan added to his lead in the points classification as well as padding his advantage in the best young rider competition, where he leads over Garmin-Transition's Peter Stetina.