Lieuwe Westra of the Netherlands easily outsprinted Spanaird Francisco Mancebo to claim the sweltering and hilly stage 1 and assumed the overall race Sunday lead at the Amgen Tour of California.
Westra, an eight-year pro who claimed his 12th career win, completed 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.
Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won five stages of the race last year, finished third, trailing by 6 seconds.
Westra, the 2012 Dutch national time trial title, received a 10-second bonus and leads Mancebo by 4 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 Vacansoleil-DCM team based in the Netherlands. "So I decided to make a move. It was perfect."
Sagan (Cannondale) is third overall, trailing Westra by 12 seconds.
Westra, runner-up last year in Paris-Nice, vaulted to the front of the main field with less than three miles left and opened a nine-second gap. Mancebo, winner last month in the Redlands (California) 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. "He (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, Mt. finished 17th in stage in the main field and is 19th overall, trailing by 16 seconds.
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp), of Salt Lake City, 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 less than expected. Ben King, the 24-year-old former US 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 eliminate via the time cutoff.
With temperatures quick 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) and 60 1/2 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 was caught with three miles left after riding about 92 miles at the front of the field.
The event continues Monday with 124.1-mile stage 2 Murrieta to Palm Springs road race. The stage will feature two climbs, including a 3.7-mile uphill finish at the top of a tram station.