One step closer for Wiggins
Sir Bradley Wiggins ticked off another stage in the race leader's jersey at the Tour of California as Taylor Phinney emerged to claim a fine solo win.
Wiggins was well marshaled once again throughout the 179.4km trek from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara and looked cool as a cucumber on the day's sole climb, despite temperatures once again in excess of 100 degrees.
It was shortly after the peloton had crested the San Marcos Pass that Phinney made his stage-winning move, by chipping off the front in an aerodynamic tuck before pressing home his advantage in consummate style.
With the American no threat on the general classification, Team Sky could sit back as Cannondale and Orica-GreenEdge both toiled away in the hope of bringing him back, but their efforts proved in vain as Phinney crossed the line 12 seconds ahead of his pursuers.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) took the sprint for second place ahead of Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), but both riders will have been disappointed by the result having dropped purer sprinters like Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) earlier in the day.
Wiggins and his closest GC rivals were part of that group though, which ensured the 2012 Tour de France winner maintained his 28-second cushion over Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) heading into Friday's Queen stage.
The action had got off to a brisk start but six riders still managed to jump ahead before the first intermediate sprint. Having allowed the breakaway to stay clear 24 hours previously, the peloton hadn't banked on a repeat scenario and kept the escapees on a relatively tight leash as they headed in a southeasterly direction towards the destination town.
The sextet's lead rarely stretched above two minutes and Team Sky were tasked with keeping them in check during the early exchanges before Giant-Shimano, Cannondale and Orica-GreenEdge took over that responsibility.
The break were swept up on the early slopes of the first-category ascent, and the pace Cannondale set meant only 40-or-so riders were still in the bunch as they pedalled over the summit. Stage four winner Will Routley (Kelly Benefit Strategies) had briefly edged clear to extend his lead in the King of the Mountains classification, but it was Phinney's move immediately after that caught the sprint teams unaware, and the 23 year old flew down the descent and into Santa Barbara for a brave and hard-fought triumph.