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Peter Sagan is too poised to let a few obstacles keep him from a stage win. Or maybe he's just too young and clueless.

Sagan, a mere pup at 22, overcame a blown tire, a near-wipeout and a determined contingent of Rabobank riders to capture Stage 1 of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, proving right out of the gate that he is a force to be reckoned with in this eight-day stage race that began Sunday in downtown Santa Rosa.

Or maybe he had established that already. It was the fourth Tour of California stage win for young Slovakian wunderkind, who rides for the Italian team Liquigas-Cannondale. Sagan also has won two sprint titles and one Best Young Rider jersey in the event, and he finished eighth overall in 2010.

"I think Peter's sprint, it's a gift I haven't seen in a long time," said Team Exergy rider Fred Rodriguez. "There's nothing he can't do. It's impressive."

Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Barracuda crossed second in a crowded sprint, followed by Rodriguez. Jeffry Louder of UnitedHealthcare picked up bonus points for intermediate sprints and officially finished third in the general classification.

Local favorite Levi Leiphei-mer finished in the main peloton, proving that he is still a formidable opponent despite suffering a fractured left fibula just six weeks ago.

The final result seemed improbable as the lead riders prepared to enter Santa Rosa city limits for the final time. That's when Sagan's tire went flat. It would have been the end of the chase for many cyclists, but Sagan's crew had him back on the bike quickly, and teammates Ed King and Alessandro Vanotti quickly came back to retrieve him and provide support.

Or as Sagan said in his developing English: "It's a good work did my team."

Within four minutes, with the crush of titanium and flesh bearing down on the finish, Sagan was back in contention. Then came the next emergency. Rabobank's Michael Matthews swerved suddenly on Third Street and went down along with several other riders. One of them was King. Sagan was right on his teammate's back tire and narrowly avoided a fall.

Because the crash happened within three kilometers of the finish line, those who were caught up — including King, Matthews and a trio of AG2R La Mondiale riders — were given the same time as the group they had been riding in.

Sagan, Leipheimer, 2011 winner Chris Horner and the other general classification contenders were a mere sideshow for much of the race. Only a couple miles after the riders finished their neutral laps through the streets of downtown, eight men moved ahead of the pack. The breakaway was composed of Louder Maxime Boulet (AG2R La Mondiale), David Boily (Spidertech), Andrew Dahlheim (Bissell), Ben Jacques-Mayne (Bissell), Sebastian Salas (Optum), Joshua Atkins (Bontrager LIVESTRONG) and Sam Johnson (Exergy).

It survived for much longer than expected. Just eight miles in, the breakaway was five minutes ahead. The gap grew to more than six minutes on the ride south from Windsor, and reached its peak at more than 11 minutes as the cyclists headed west on Occidental Road. With just 21? miles remaining in the 115.9-mile race, the difference was still a healthy 7:45.

Then the big shots began to assert their dominance. They took the gap below four minutes before leaving Coleman Valley Road. They reeled in Dahlheim, the first of the renegades to falter. They narrowed the margin to 2:40 at the final Category 3 climb on Coleman Valley, with RadioShack and Rabobank doing much of the heavy chasing.

A half-hour from the finish, only Jacques-Maynes, Bouet and Louder remained up front. Finally, just before Sagan's non-fatal flat tire, the three breakaway riders shook hands and prepared for the inevitable pass.

After it came, the final result remained wide open. Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE was the first to make a push for the front, setting up Leigh Howard for the finish. They were overtaken by Rabobank, and then by Liquigas-Cannondale. Daniel Oss rode out front until about the 250-kilometer mark, before slingshotting Sagan to the victory.

"I tried to come around Sagan at 200 meters, and I didn't have the legs," Rodriguez said.

Sagan officially finished in 4 hours, 42 minutes, 25 seconds — four seconds ahead of Haussler and Louder, and six seconds ahead of Rodriguez and Jacques-Maynes. The main peloton of about 60 riders was 10 seconds off the pace, and another large group of about 40 was 7 minutes, 6 seconds behind.

Santa Rosa's day in the sun turned out to be just that. The day started cold and overcast, and by the time the cyclists approached the coast, they felt a little drizzle on Cazadero Highway. But the riders crossed the finish line downtown under a glorious blue sky, smartly capping the city's first experience as Stage 1 host.

"It was a great day to be out there," Jacques-Maynes said. "Beautiful roads, beautiful scenery, great crowds out there, and just tried to soak it all in."

Stage 2 begins Monday morning in San Francisco and finishes at Cabrillo College in Aptos.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.