Peter Sagan had no time to think Tuesday in a sprint to the finish line in downtown Livermore.
The Slovak sensation did what any quick-reacting cyclist would during the final, frantic moments of Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California when rivals brush against each other.
Sagan, 22, leaned over to warn another sprinter that he was too close just before surging in the final 100 yards to seize his third consecutive victory in the weeklong tour that ends Sunday in Los Angeles.
The hold-your-breath scene ended a 115-mile stage that began in northeast San Jose and covered some of the beautiful back roads of Alameda and Contra Costa counties on a perfect spring day.
As the tour left the Bay Area on Tuesday for the Sierra Foothills, Sagan tied Levi Leipheimer for the most Tour of California stage victories at six each. He holds a 12-second lead over Garmin Barracuda's Heinrich Haussler, who finished second for the third consecutive stage.
"I don't know how to say it," Sagan said of his performance. "It is also a surprise for me."
For those following professional cycling, it hardly is a shock to see Sagan atop a podium. The former junior mountain bike champion is blossoming into one of the world's finest racers.
His performances the past three days signal Sagan could be a serious contender to win some stages in the Tour de France for his Liquigas-Cannondale team. He also could emerge as a possible Olympic medalist in July.
"This race is very hard for me," he said, explaining that upcoming climbs in Southern California might be too much to handle.
The racer also is not ready to test the tour's best time trialists, who should take over the lead Thursday in Bakersfield.
"Maybe I will try" to hold onto "the yellow jersey for one more day," Sagan said. "After the time trial, we will see."
Sagan won Tuesday in 4 hours, 50.49 minutes by bursting past Haussler from the right. No. 1-ranked Tom Boonen of Belgium was third.
Alex Candelario of Reno finished fourth but seemed to tangle with Sagan before the end. Candelario complained to his Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies manager about an incident on the course.
Team director Jonas Carney asked race officials to review video, but the race jury found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Carney said the incident had nothing to do with Sagan. "My rider said he was impeded," Carney said. "My rider did not mention Peter Sagan."
But a review of photos showed Sagan leaning into Candelario as the sprinters came around a bend close to the finish line.
Sagan acknowledged bumping a rival in those riveting moments, though he didn't know who it was. He said he felt at risk of getting knocked down at the worst possible moment.
"I reached out just to make sure he knew I was there because it was dangerous," Sagan said. "It's more of a safety thing."
Sagan already had overcome two flat tires and a crash to dominate in the first two stages.
Boonen finally found the podium after getting shut out for two days. Afterward, the Belgian star announced his plans to forgo the Tour de France to train for the London Games.
"I still want to do the Tour in the future," Boonen said. "I missed the last two Olympic chances, so I am really looking forward to try this new experience and try and get the best from it."
He might find Sagan rivaling him on the 155-mile, hilly Olympic course from London to Surrey.
"Sagan is in a winning mood right now, and he also found a finish that suits him here," said Boonen, a former world road champion. "But I think everyone is beatable, and we will try again tomorrow to win the stage."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/elliottalmond.