Neo-professional Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) took Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California stage proving that he, indeed, has a bright future ahead.
The young Slovak proved too strong over the closing kilometre for race leader Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) to match. He launched his winning sprint from behind and opened a 1 second gap over the rider before the line.
It was a day of drama all around, as Michael Rogers took advantage of a split in the peloton on the first KOM, which left most of the sprinters behind, to focus on his general classification position.
On the challenging 6km circuit, which included a steep kilometre long climb, Rogers followed a massive effort by Zabriskie and ignored Sagan's attack, choosing instead to jump past the Garmin rider at the line. The sprint tightened the situation of the general classification and allowed Rogers to draw equal to Zabriskie on time and taking over the yellow jersey thanks to his better stage placings.
For Sagan, the win was his first on American soil and his team's second consecutive stage win at this year’s Amgen Tour of California. The victory served to solidify his position as best young rider of the race.
The fifth stage of the Amgen Tour of California headed out from Visalia under the cloud of controversy raised by Floyd Landis' allegations of widespread doping by his former teammates including one Lance Armstrong, now riding with Team RadioShack. All eyes were on Armstrong and his long-time team director Johan Bruyneel as they categorically denied the charges to a mob of media amassed outside the team's bus.
Armstrong's day didn't get any brighter, despite the clear skies and pleasant temperatures. At just three miles into the stage a massive crash took down nearly half the peloton, Armstrong included. The seven-time Tour de France winner abandoned the race soon after, fearing a broken elbow but subsequent x-rays came back negative for breaks.
Other riders impacted by the crash were Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) and Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) both of whom abandoned as well. Before the day was out Jay Robert Thomas (Fly V Australia) and Daniel Holloway (Bissell) would also call it quits, bringing the peloton down to just 115 riders.
Five men entered into the circuits in Bakersfield with 1:45 minutes on the chasing yellow jersey group, with Dickeson managing to get back into the group after being dropped as the group went under the one kilometre to go banner on the first of two laps.
The six continued to attack each other on the final, and on the climb heading into one lap to go, Dickeson, Hovelynck, Mach and then Niermann fell off pace with Day and Renshaw. Day then dispatched his fellow Australian, continuing on solo to the top of the climb with seven kilometres remaining.
Holding only 25 seconds to the peloton, Day was now pursued by Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), who rocked out of the bunch past all the former breakaway riders but failed to make it across to the Fly V Australia rider.
The lights went out for Day on the final lap as the Liquigas-Doimo team began to up the tempo to deliver best young rider Peter Sagan to the line.
Also positioned near the front were Zabriskie, Rogers and Leipheimer, keeping each other in check with their mind on the steep climb in the final kilometre and the 10-second time bonus on the line.
Zabriskie chose to lead all the way to the line much as he did to Santa Cruz, and handed the stage like a gift-wrapped present to Sagan, the second stage win for Liquigas in a row. Rogers pipped Zabriskie to take the second place time bonus over Zabriskie, bringing himself equal on time.