As the peloton reached the finishing circuits around the state Capitol, the rain falling as if on cue, three powerful teams fought for position in the Amgen Tour of California's second stage.
Garmin-Cervelo was trying to set up world champion Thor Hushovd, HTC-Highroad sought to deliver Matt Goss to the front, and Saxo Bank-SunGard searched for a way to send J.J. Haedo to victory.
But as the last of three two-mile laps began, Team Sky surged to the front. Ben Swift, its sprinter, made his move in the closing stretch down L Street, edging past Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale and Goss just before the finish line to claim the stage victory.
"We had a plan to hit the front with one lap to go," said Swift, a 23-year-old British cyclist. "They (other teams) played into our hands a little bit. Teams were taking off a little bit early.
"We really took control on the final lap. Everybody did their job 100 percent."
Swift won his fifth stage victory of the year in a stage shortened from 133.2 miles to 76.3 miles. The start was moved from Squaw Valley to Nevada City because of concern over potential bad weather and road conditions on Donner Summit.
The winner said the rain helped.
"Coming from Britain, you always get rain," said Swift, who finished in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 2 seconds. "I like racing in the rain. It puts the fear into some people."
Sagan finished second in 2:47:06, with Goss third in 2:47:08.
Swift will wear the leader's yellow jersey in today's stage, a 121.9-mile ride from Auburn to Modesto scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for rain in the morning and afternoon along the route.
This year's race has been plagued by bad weather. The opening stage Sunday, a 118.7-mile ride from South Lake Tahoe to Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort, was canceled because of snow, wind and cold temperatures.
Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns and operates the race, said the Squaw Valley start was abandoned when it became apparent conditions on Donner Summit likely wouldn't be good Monday morning.
"It didn't make any sense to ask the riders to even attempt to go over Donner," Messick said. Messick said a Squaw Valley start was abandoned around midnight. Race officials then called Nevada City officials asking if they'd be willing to host the start of Monday's stage.
"We got a call back saying the city was ours," Messick said. "They'd be ready for us at 6 in the morning.
"When we arrived early in the morning, it was ready for us. It was terrific. When it comes to bicycle racing, Nevada City, they really respond.
"There were thousands and thousands of people."
There were crowds in Sacramento, too, with a Sacramento Police Department estimate putting the number of spectators at 50,000 to 60,000.
Messick expressed disappointment at the weather problems the first two days of the eight-day race, which has reduced the 763-mile event to less than 600 miles.
"But we can't control the weather," he said. "A storm of the magnitude we experienced was a game-changer."
Once the race began, four riders tried to shake things up with an early breakaway.
Lazlo Bodrogi of Team Type 1, Timon Seubert of Team NetApp, James Driscoll of Jamis-Sutter Home and Ben Jacques-Maynes of Bissell Pro Cycling built a five-minute lead early in the race.
But the peloton gave chase, catching the leaders as the field rode down 12th Street and then began the first of three finishing circuits around the state Capitol.
"I knew those big pro teams would almost certainly reel us in," said Driscoll, who earned the Amgen Breakaway From Cancer Most Courageous rider jersey. "But it was good to race aggressively as we were told to do."
Once riders started the closing circuits, the jockeying for position was on.
And a guy named Swift was the fastest to the finish.