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Skujins wins stage; Alaphilippe keeps lead in Tour of California

Stage winner Toms Skujins, of the Cannondale racing team, right, crosses the finish line just ahead of second place finisher Adam De Vos of Rally Cycling on Thursday, May 19, 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The 132-mile stage started in Lodi and finished at Heavenly ski resort in South Lake Tahoe.
Stage winner Toms Skujins, of the Cannondale racing team, right, crosses the finish line just ahead of second place finisher Adam De Vos of Rally Cycling on Thursday, May 19, 2016 in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The 132-mile stage started in Lodi and finished at Heavenly ski resort in South Lake Tahoe. rpench@sacbee.com

It’s a long way from Latvia to Lodi, but Toms Skujins has made the transition as well as anyone – particularly when he’s pedaling a bicycle.

While young Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) maintained his overall race lead for the third day, Skujins completed his long day near or at the front of the race with a two-rider sprint win in the 131.7-mile Stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California from Lodi in 5 hours, 54 minutes and 45 seconds.

After riding along the Pacific Ocean from Morro Bay to Salinas in Stage 4, the field exchanged serenity for fierce winds and altitude in Stage 5. Winds gusted to nearly 40 mph, and the men’s stage reached more than 8,500 feet of elevation on the second climb of the day to Carson Pass.

Skujins (Cannondale), a first-year ProTour rider from Sigulda, Latvia, who won the last year’s stage that finished in Lodi, rode among an early breakaway group of 18 that formed at 14 miles. His group eventually was absorbed, but Skujins bolted to the front again with about 20 miles left with Canadian Adam De Vos (Rally) and Xabier Zandio (Sky) of Spain in pursuit.

The trio exchanged turns at the front, with De Vos finishing second with an identical time. Zandio, 39, the oldest competitor in the race, was third across the finish line, eight seconds behind, in the parking lot of Heavenly Mountain Resort.

“Two wins and two wins from Lodi. I luckily managed to get in the right break,” Skujins said. “We had a pretty big group, and as is always the case, not everyone was committed. In the end, it worked out pretty well. Once I hit out the second time and two guys bridged up, we were pretty much in the clear.”

Alaphilippe, 23, who finished second overall last year, holds a 22-second margin over Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) of Boulder, Colo. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) of New Zealand is third overall, trailing by 37 seconds.

Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) continued her preparation for the Summer Olympics with a final uphill surge and a solo win in Stage 1 of the four-stage women’s Tour of California that ended about two hours before the men’s stage.

Guarnier, a 31-year-old New York native, surged in the final steep climb and pedaled to a four-second win and her third victory this season in the 72.7-mile trek around Lake Tahoe in 3:05:09.

Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman) of Roseville, who at age 19 is the youngest rider in the men’s field, dropped one position to sixth overall after finishing 34th. He trails Alaphilippe by 1:01.

“It was super windy, and I had some bad luck at the end of the stage with a rear flat,” said Powless, who’s competing in the biggest race of his young career. “I was lucky, though. My whole team was there with me to bring me back up.

“It has been a harsh couple of days. We’ll see about the time trial, how my legs are. I don’t know if the podium (top three) is possible, but I would still like to move up in the standings.”

Evan Huffman (SmartStop) of El Dorado Hills, who finished second in Stage 2, placed 71st in Stage 5 and is 82nd overall in the field of 140.

As she did last year in the nearly identical opening stage, Sarah Storey (Podium Ambition) of Great Britain went to the front alone.

Storey, a 73-time world-record holder and multiple Paralympic world champion, built more than a two-minute lead after 15 miles. She extended her cushion to about five minutes after 40 miles.

The women’s field was split into several groups, but a cohesive contingent quickly realized it was time to reel in the leader. Storey, who was born with a nonfunctioning left hand, was finally caught with about three miles left after pedaling alone for 50 miles.

Sweden’s Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) was second in the women’s stage, four seconds back. Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-RideBiker) of Boise, Idaho, finished third, 10 seconds behind Guarnier, the only U.S. road cyclist who has qualified for the Rio Olympics so far.

The 782-mile men’s race will continue Friday in Folsom with the Stage 6 individual time trial beginning at 12:30 p.m. The men’s field will start the 12.6-mile course in one-minute intervals in the reverse order of their overall standings. The top 10 in the overall standings will start with two-minute intervals.

The women’s Stage 2, a team time trial on the same course, will start at 10:30 a.m. Both divisions will end Sunday in Sacramento.

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