SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Germany's Jens Voigt won the fifth stage of the Tour of California on Thursday, and American Tejay van Garderen surprisingly took the overall lead a day sooner than expected.
The 41-year-old Voigt, riding for RadioShack Leopard, jumped to the front with about three miles left and completed the windy 115.4-mile Santa Barbara to Avila Beach road race in 4 hours, 41 minutes, 11 seconds.
"There was a sticky little uphill with about five kilometers left," said Voigt, the oldest rider in the field. "I said now or never and it worked. It worked once again."
American Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp was second in 4:41:22, followed by Norway's Thor Hushovd of BMC in the same time.
Voigt, a two-time Tour de France stage winner who turned professional in 1997, and van Gardener, riding for BMC, were among 18 riders who escaped from the main field in strong coastal crosswinds about 33 miles from the finish.
Van Garderen, who trailed Colombia's Janier Acevedo of Jamis-Hagens Berman by 12 seconds at the start of the stage, took a 44-second lead over 2010 race winner Michael Rogers of Australia and Saxo-Tinkoff.
"It wasn't BMC's plan to split the bunch," said van Garderen, from Bozeman, Mont. "It seemed like a headwind all day, but then all of a sudden it changed, and you could feel it getting nervous in the bunch. You knew something was going to happen."
Van Garderen, fourth in the event last year and fifth as the leading American finisher in the 2012 Tour de France, is the favorite in the stage-six time trial in San Jose.
"I think it was RadioShack who started it," van Garderen said. "It was a split-second decision to go with it. But the race is definitely not over. It's still tight."
Acevedo missed the lead break and finished more than a minute behind Voigt to drop to third overall, 50 seconds back with three stages left in the eight-day race.
American Carter Jones (Bissell), Taiwan's Chun Kai Feng (Champion System) and Belgium's Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) escaped from the field a few minutes after the start and built more than a 7- minute margin.
The trio pedaled for more than 80 miles at the front before the increasing crosswinds split the field into six groups and the leaders were caught when the RadioShack Leopard team surged at the front of the main field.
Acevedo, who took his previous race lead after claiming the hot and hilly second stage in Palm Springs, never challenged after missing the lead break.
The eight-day event continues Friday with the 19.6-mile individual time trial.
The field will begin solo in reverse of their overall standings in minute intervals with the exception of the top-10 overall, who will start 2 minutes apart.
The 727-mile race concludes Sunday with an 80.7-mile morning road race from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.