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Mark Cavendish pushes for win in Tour of California's fifth stage

Mark Cavendish wins fifth stage, a ride from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, in Tour of California

Drought and hot temperatures that have plagued Southern California were not factors Thursday in the 10th Amgen Tour of California.

As cyclists made their way from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, they were drenched in rain.

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain was cold, but also perfectly positioned.

Cavendish waited until only a few hundred meters remained before launching a sprint that gave him his third stage victory in five days.

Cavendish, 29, passed Zico Waeytens of Belgium and held off Peter Sagan of Slovakia to win the 95.7-mile stage from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita.

Cavendish credited Mark Renshaw and other Etixx-Quick Step teammates for helping to set him up for the victory.

"The key in a headwind sprint is not to go too early because you're going to fade," Cavendish said. "So I waited for [Waeytens] to jump … and then used him and used his slipstream to slingshot and pass him for the win."

Cavendish won the first stage of the eight-day, 724-mile race in Sacramento and also won the second stage from Nevada City to Lodi.

But Latvian Toms Skujins of the Hincapie team, who won the third stage that began and ended in San Jose, remained the overall leader with a time of 22 hours, 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

Sagan, the second-place finisher in the first three stages and winner of the fourth stage, from Pismo Beach to Avila Beach, is 18 seconds behind Skujins heading into Friday's time trial. Eighteen others, including 2012 Tour of California winner Robert Gesink of the Netherlands, are within 47 seconds of the lead.

The time trial was originally scheduled to be staged in Big Bear. But the forecast of snow caused race organizers to move the location Wednesday and change the distance.

So what was scheduled to be a 15.1-mile course at nearly 7,000 feet will be a 6.6-mile course in Valencia that starts and ends in the Six Flags Magic Mountain parking lot.

Skujins, 23, said the change could aid his chances of winning the race.

"It will help me a lot that the race is not at altitude," Skujins said of the time trial.

The race will conclude with an 80-mile stage from Ontario to a summit finish at Mt. Baldy on Saturday, and Sunday's final stage, a 65-mile course that begins at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles and ends at the Rose Bowl.

Cavendish, Skujins and Danilo Wyss of Switzerland, who was part of a group that broke early and led for most of Thursday's rain-soaked stage, sipped hot tea during a post-race news conference, trying to warm up after a long day.

Cavendish described the conditions as "quite European."

"You can have rain or you can have cold," he said, "but when they're mixed together, it really goes to your core."

Etc.

The men's individual time trial will begin at 1:05 p.m. … A women's invitational time trial will precede the men's event at 12:30 p.m. Olympic Gold Medal winner Kristin Armstrong is among 22 participants.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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