PASO ROBLES — Slovakian Peter Sagan swung wide right in the final 100 yards and sped from fifth place to win the fifth stage of the Tour of California.
Chris Horner remained the overall race leader Thursday.
Sagan, of the Liquiqas-Cannondale team, claimed two consecutive stages in last year’s event. On Thursday, he won the 135.1-mile Seaside to Paso Robles road race in 5 hours, 16 minutes, 3 seconds.
The 21- year-old, second-year pro earned his 11th career stage victory.
“It was tough because the race was so long, but my teammates did a great job,” Sagan said through a translator.
Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad) of Australia was second, and Ben Swift (Sky) of Britain, the opening stage winner, finished third, both in the same time as Sagan.
Davis resident Paul Mach was in a group that was 47 seconds behind the leaders on Thursday and is in 52nd place overall — 12 minutes 40 seconds back — after five stages.
Horner (RadioShack), who took the race lead Wednesday with a solo uphill win, finished 11th in the main field on Thursday and maintained his 1-minute, 15-second lead over teammate and fellow American Levi Leipheimer in the overall standings.
“I had the best place in the race,” said Horner, the 10th-place finisher and leading American last year in the Tour de France. He rode Thursday surrounded by teammates. “I didn’t need to be at the front. But when the gaps opened up toward the end, Levi pulled me up there.”
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) is third overall, trailing by 1:22.
Several crashes involving at least a half-dozen riders occurred throughout the fifth stage, held in strong crosswinds.
Gustav Larsson (Saxo-Bank) of Sweden, the former world time trial champion, and American Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), who led breakaways in earlier stages, both left the race with unspecified, non-serious injuries.
Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) of Norway, the reigning world champ and an eight-time Tour de France stage winner, also left the race because of illness.
The seven-day event continues Friday with a 15-mile individual time trial in Solvang, Calif. A 13-rider pro women’s time trial will be held before the men’s race.