Sagan takes Stage 5; Leipheimer left without wingman 

A day that started out miserably for Lance Armstrong only got worse, and now his Team RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer will have one less ally in his quest for a fourth consecutive Amgen Tour of California title.

After deflecting doping accusations brought on by disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis before Thursday’s Stage 5 race, Armstrong was forced to drop out of the eight-day event after crashing just five miles into the 121.5-mile leg from Visalia to Bakersfield.

Although Leipheimer was involved in the multi-person crash, he was able to dust himself off and rejoin the field, but the Santa Rosa resident was unable to catch 20-year-old Peter Sagan, an emerging star with Team Liquigas-Doimio who won Stage 5 in a time of 4 hours, 52 minutes, 28 seconds.

David Zabriskie, the overall leader entering Thursday’s leg, made a strong surge just over 100 meters from the finish in Bakersfield, but a prevailing headwind dampened his big move, and Sagan and Australian Michael Rogers were able to outmaneuver him for a 1-2 finish.

Zabriskie wound up third, 1 second behind the leaders, and Leipheimer finished the stage seventh, 2 seconds off the pace. By virtue of his second-place stage finish, Rogers moved into a tie with Zabriskie atop the overall standings, with a time of 22 hours, 56 minutes, 59 seconds. According to Amgen Tour tiebreaker rules, Rogers claimed the yellow jersey of the overall leader because he finished in front of Zabriskie in Stage 5.

“It’s an honor to have this jersey,” Rogers said.

Sagan gained six seconds on the leaders. He maintained his fourth-place spot in the overall standings, five seconds behind Leipheimer, who stayed at third place.

If Leipheimer is to capture his fourth straight Amgen Tour title, he will have to do it without Armstrong, his key ally with Team RadioShack.

The seven-time Tour de France champion suffered a 3½-inch laceration under his eye and a severely-bruised elbow due to the fall, but did not have any breaks or fractures.

“It was a shame to have to abandon early and not be able to help Levi to another victory. It was one of those crashes that put a bunch of us down,” Armstrong said. “I tried to give it a go but my eye was swollen so I couldn’t see properly and the pain in the elbow prevented me from holding the bars for the remainder of the stage. It was a relief to learn there were no breaks. I will take a few days to recover and be on the bike as soon as possible”

Following the leaders

Levi Leipheimer: Once again, the three-time defending Amgen champ was unable to pull away from the pack to notch a stage victory, but his seventh-place finish on Thursday left him just 10 seconds off the overall lead. Without his teammate Lance Armstrong to drive him forward, Leipheimer’s resilience will be tested immediately during Stage 6, a mountainous leg that ends atop the San Bernardino Mountains.

Michael Rogers: The Australian compiled a near-perfect race on Thursday, capturing a two-second bonus with a sprint victory early in Stage 5, before craftily sneaking his way into a second-place stage finish. By gaining a total of eight seconds in time bonuses, Rogers moved into a tie with Zabriskie atop the overall standings, but technically moved into first place because he placed better in Stage 5.

Peter Sagan: Sagan already entered Thursday’s race with two top-five stage finishes and the white jersey that goes with the Amgen Tour’s Top Young Rider. With his Stage 5 victory, Sagan continued to impress and put himself into leading contention for the overall title of this year’s Tour.

David Zabriskie: The Garmin-Transitions racer made a bit of a tactical error on Thursday by going with his finishing surge a little too far from the tape, but the mental lapse shouldn’t prove to be too painful. His time through five stages has him tied atop the leaderboard (although he’s technically second due to tiebreaker rules), and he should be in prime position to make his stake for the title in the Stage 7 Time Trial in Los Angeles. — Will Reisman

Tour by numbers

20 Age of Stage 5 winner Peter Sagan

5 Cyclists who dropped out of the Tour on Thursday

4 Different cyclists to own or share the overall lead

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Will Reisman

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