ESCONDIDO – Lieuwe Westra of the Netherlands easily outsprinted Spanaird Francisco Mancebo to claim the sweltering and hilly Stage 1, and assumed the overall race lead on Sunday in the Amgen Tour of California.
Westra, an eight-year pro who claimed his 12th career win, finished the 102.6-mile Escondido road race in 4 hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds as temperatures reached into the high 90s.
Mancebo (5-Hour Energy) finished second a few bikes lengths behind on the opening day of the eighth annual race that featured more than 12,000 feet of desert climbing.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan, who won five stages of the race last year, finished third, trailing by six seconds.
Westra, who won the 2012 Dutch national time trial title, received a 10-second bonus and leads Mancebo by four seconds in the eight-day race.
"I saw with about 10 kilometers to go, the field was not so good," said Westra, who rides for Netherlands-based Vacansoleil-DCM. "So I decided to make a move. It was perfect."
Sagan (Cannondale) is third, trailing Westra by 12 seconds.
Westra, the runner-up in last year's Paris-Nice race, vaulted to the front of the main field with less than three miles left and opened a nine-second gap. Mancebo, the winner in last month's Redlands Classic, joined him, and the two rode together until the final sprint.
"For me, it was perfect to have that other rider, I don't know who, but he was very strong, and we held it to the finish," said Westra. "(Mancebo) came after I waited a little bit. It was perfect that he went in the last kilometer."
Race favorite Tejay van Garderen (BMC) of Bozeman, Mont., finished 17th in the stage and is 19th overall, trailing by 16 seconds.
Salt Lake City's Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp), a four-time overall race runner-up, finished 38th in the stage and is 40th overall, also 16 seconds behind.
The 16-team event began with 127 riders, one fewer than expected. Ben King, a 24-year-old former U.S. pro road champion from Virginia, withdrew the day before the event because of hand injuries suffered on a training ride crash Friday in Escondido.
The field was reduced to 123 after one rider didn't finish and three were eliminated via the time cutoff.
With temperatures quick- ly increasing, four riders built more than an 11-minute advantage in Stage 1 after 30 miles. But the field steadily narrowed its deficit to about eight minutes a few miles later as riders prepared for the climb to Mt. Palomar (5,290 feet), 601/2 miles into the stage and the highest point of this year's race.
Only James Stemper (5-Hour Energy/Kenda) of Wauwatosa, Wis., and Carter Jones (Bissell) of Boulder, Colo., remained at the front with a lead of 3:30 and 20 miles left. The duo were caught with three miles left after riding about 92 miles at the front of the field.
Giro d'Italia in Florence, Italy – Maxim Belkov of Russia won the ninth stage with a superb solo performance, and Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall lead.