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64th Paris-Nice - ProTour

France, March 5-12, 2006

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Stage 5 - March 10: Avignon - Digne-les-Bains, 201.5 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones

Live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CET
Estimated finish: 16:30 PT

14:30 CET   
Welcome back to Paris-Nice for the fifth stage of the race to the sun. And it is sunny today as the riders head from Avignon to Digne-les-Bains in the south of France. The stage is 201.5 km long and is another tricky one, with the Cat. 1 Col du Corobin (km 185) coming at just 16 km to go. That will surely give the GC riders something to work with. There are also the Cat. 1 Col Notre Dame des Abeilles (km 48.5) and Cat. 3 Col de Sault (km 61) on the menu, as well as intermediate sprints at Oraison (km 128.5) and Mezel (km 164).

Race leader Floyd Landis (Phonak) told Cyclingnews this morning, "It's not over yet, but the team's good and now we've got the first mountain stage. It's difficult to control a race like this. I can't promise the win, but I think we are the strongest team and we'll keep fighting. Hopefully we can find some help, people with other interests. Like yesterday, Boonen's team wanted a sprint, so that helped.

"There are a lot of people who are within a minute and a half, so for those guys, it's in their interests to attack. Not until the end, of course. It's too difficult a stage to go from the beginning, but hopefully we can let a break go and then in the end, it'll be up to me. Right now, I feel OK."

14:43 CET    160.5km/41km to go
The story so far...

144 riders started at 11:44 in warm, sunny conditions with a westerly wind blowing. Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) was the first attacker, but was caught and countered by Axel Merckx (Phonak), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears), Nick Nuyens (Quick Step), Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Matej Mugerli (Liquigas-Bianchi).

They lasted until km 13.5, and Nicolas Crosbie (Agritubel) and Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) countered after 17 km. The pair were joined by Koos Moerenhout (Phonak), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Aitor Perez Arrieta (Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears), Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step), Michael Albasini (Liquigas-Bianchi), Didier Rous (Bouygues Telecom), Maarten Den Bakker (Milram) and Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) after 23 km, riding to a 30 second lead before they were all swallowed on the Cat. 1 Cote Notre Dame des Abeilles after 40 km.

The next attack was started on the climb by Francis Mourey (Française des Jeux) and Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros), as the latter's teammate Allan Davis abandoned, along with Benjamin Noval (Discovery). David Moncoutié (Cofidis) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears) set off behind and caught the two leaders, with Moncoutié winning the points at the top ahead of Rodriguez, Contador and Mourey. Five riders were chasing them at 25 seconds: Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Nicolas Portal (Caisse d’Epargne), Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Mario Aerts (Davitamon Lotto) and Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom). They made the junction after 58 km and had a 2'10 lead over the peloton.

Pineau won the points on the Col de Sault ahead of Contador and Rodriguez, 3'25 ahead of the peloton. Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital) abandoned. The lead reached just over 4'00 around the 120 km mark with Phonak keeping it stable. The sprint at Oraison (km 128.5) was won by Posthuma ahead of Contador and Portal.

At the moment, the nine leaders have just 41 km to go (and one big climb) with 3'15 lead.

14:46 CET    162.5km/39km to go
Euskaltel is helping lead the peloton as some dark clouds gather behind the riders.

We spoke to second placed on GC Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital) this morning, who told us, "I'll try to maintain this second placing. Of course I'd like to go for the jersey, but I know it will be hard as Floyd is so strong. So I'm sort of satisfied with what I have, but I'll have to wait and see. Maybe there'll be a day when I'm better than him, but I like to be realistic about things and tell them as they are.

"The finale is not easy at all, but the stage will be ok to control."

14:50 CET    164.5km/37km to go
The bunch is certainly in chase mode, having been averaging over 40 km/h today. Euskaltel working means that Samuel Sanchez and Haimar Zubeldia fancy their chances. They don't want to let the nine get too much of a lead, and it now comes down to 2'55. Joost Posthuma is the best placed on GC, in 28th at 4'17.

Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) told us this morning, "Originally I just came to help the sprinter and the other day I flatted at the bottom of the last climb, so I thought, 'that's it, GC is gone'. But I got back up to the field and it had all split up, and I followed some guys, I guess Chechu from Discovery had flatted too, so him and I worked together.

"Today the climb at the finish alone is going to be enough to decide the race. It's only 15 km from the top to the finish. Phonak will control the race today for certain, at least until that climb. Then Floyd will be on his own going up."

14:57 CET    168.5km/33km to go
Phonak is also helping out the chase of course, while the green jersey clad Tom Boonen relaxes near the back of the bunch. It's not a stage for him today, as he sits next to teammate Nick Nuyens.

Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) is in sixth overall at the moment, but will probably not be looking forward to today's finish. "I have some stomach problems at the moment, but otherwise I'm fine," he told us. "For sure, the last few days have been tough with the cold, but I've had the problems before already. It's not getting any better in the race, of course with the pressure and everything, but I'm still fit and I hope it stays that way."

15:01 CET    171.5km/30km to go
Under 30 km to go and the pace is very high in the peloton, as it races through a deep gorge. Davitamon-Lotto is also helping to drive the chase, which is just 2'21 behind the break.

A Tirreno-Adriatico update: Race leader Paolo Bettini is out after crashing on a fast descent. He was taken to hospital, but it's not certain how bad his injuries are.

15:02 CET   
Some Caisse d'Epargne jerseys get near the front, to slow things down a bit presumably. Wilfried Cretskens is also there. Well, if Boonen can get over this mountain then he stands another chance of winning another stage.

15:03 CET    173.5km/28km to go
Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto) is now on the front and the pace lifts. We talked to the tall, lanky Belgian this morning too. "I don't feel too bad. When Landis took the jersey (on stage 3) I wanted to get a good gap on the climb to be in a good group at the top. But then I ran low on sugar a little bit, so it didn't work out. But my condition is good, and the weather is too. If it's possible again to go in a good group, maybe I'll try. But it all depends on my legs. I can't tell now what the race will bring."

15:06 CET    175.5km/26km to go
Joaquin Rodriguez and Nicolas Portal swap off in the lead break, keeping the pace up on the lower slopes before the Corobin. But the peloton is getting edgy, as Moerenhout does a turn for Phonak. Then a pair of Credit Agricole riders take over and string things out.

15:09 CET    178.5km/23km to go
The bunch is spread out in a long line along the wide road, with Boonen a fair way down. In front, Moncoutié opens the hostilities with Posthuma, Rodriguez and Contador on his wheel. The other five are gapped. Moncoutié knows this climb pretty well.

15:10 CET    180.5km/21km to go
The peloton is also on the climb, and it's Carlos Sastre (CSC) who drives the tempo up. He has Vasseur with him, and they get a small gap. But Sastre looks back and waits for the bunch.

In front, Posthuma has attacked!

15:12 CET    182.5km/19km to go
Posthuma has got quite a good gap over the other three remaining breakaways, as the peloton starts to splinter under the impetus of Carlos Sastre. Gerdemann accelerates now.

The leader is 12 seconds ahead of the next three, and 1'45 ahead of the bunch.

15:14 CET   
Posthuma has got his head down now, and he's climbing very well. Behind, Stef Clement is caught by Nibali then Gerdemann, who have counter attacked the peloton.

15:15 CET   
Lampre and Phonak are working hard in the peloton, pulling back Gerdemann. Nibali is still a little way ahead. Julich has been dropped.

15:17 CET   
Posthuma could be en route to a stage win and a better GC position: he has 1'55 on the peloton, which numbers about 30 now.

15:18 CET    182.5km/19km to go
Nibali continues to sit 10-15 seconds ahead of the peloton, where Frank Schleck puts in an acceleration. That strings the bunch out even more.

Rodriguez has caught Posthuma in front.

15:19 CET   
Schleck is caught, then attacks again, gritting his teeth to try to shake Caucchioli and Landis. It's not easy though.

Posthuma and Rodriguez are working together now. Moncoutié and Contador aren't out of it yet though.

15:21 CET   
Schleck has finally got a gap as he takes Kashechkin with him. They are 1'20 behind the two leaders, who are slowly being caught by Contador and Moncoutié.

Now Rodriguez has attacked Posthuma on a steep part. There is some light rain happening.

15:22 CET    183.5km/18km to go
Schleck comes back to the bunch again, along with Kashechkin. 15 riders left, and Landis is still there, as are Vila and Sanchez.

15:24 CET   
Contador and Moncoutié are about 20 seconds behind Posthuma. Aerts, Portal and Pineau are behind them, then the peloton now driven by Franzoi at 1'30. It's actually snowing a little bit.

15:25 CET    184.5km/17km to go
It's Joaquin Rodriguez still in front as he gets to 1 km from the summit of the Corobin. Joost Posthuma is chasing him at 15 seconds, then Moncoutié and Contador at about 30 seconds. The bunch doesn't look like coming back to them.

15:27 CET   
Posthuma concentrates as he nears the top of the climb. A good descent will see him back onto Rodriguez. He'll only have 16 km to do it though.

15:28 CET    185.5km/16km to go
Luis Sanchez attacks the peloton at 1 km from the summit. He's not going to catch the leader, who is now at the top. Next over is Posthuma at 0'24, then Moncoutié and Contador at 0'40.

15:29 CET    186.5km/15km to go
Rodriguez takes the twisty descent with a bit of nervousness.

Aerts, Pineau and Portal are nearly caught by Nibali at the top, but the peloton is right on their wheels.

15:31 CET   
Posthuma is now caught by Moncoutié and Contador, but Joaquin Rodriguez is still the leader. He reaches a short straight section, and makes the best use of it.

15:32 CET    190.5km/11km to go
Rodriguez still has half a minute on the chasing trio, which is sort of working together in pursuit. Posthuma looks like he wants a rest.

15:34 CET   
Nibali drives the second chase group, trying to stay clear of the "peloton". Landis is the only Phonak rider there, but there are three of four Lampres to help him. They're still 1'20 behind the leader though.

15:35 CET    191.5km/10km to go
Rodriguez throws his bike around a descent as the rain starts again. He should win the stage, if he doesn't crash.

15:36 CET    192.5km/9km to go
The roads still aren't wet so the descent shouldn't be too dangerous. The second chase group is not too far ahead of the yellow jersey group, and will probably get swallowed.

15:38 CET    193.5km/8km to go
Rodriguez has to use the brakes a bit as he takes a sharp corner. Contador continues to lead the chase behind him on this very technical descent.

15:38 CET   
Rodriguez has 45 seconds on the next chasers now, with the peloton at 1'13, having more or less absorbed Nibali's quartet. Less, at the moment.

15:40 CET   
Belgian TV reports that Paolo Bettini hasn't broken any bones after his crash in T-A, but he is definitely out of the race, and will be pretty beaten up for Milan-San Remo.

15:42 CET    195.5km/6km to go
Nibali continues to lead Pineau about 3 seconds ahead of the peloton, where Landis has to close a gap. It's all Rodriguez' stage though: The Caisse d'Epargne rider has 47 seconds on Posthuma, Contador and Moncoutié, who might be caught by Nibali soon.

15:43 CET    196.5km/5km to go
The peloton regroups a bit, but there are still attacks. Caucchioli goes past Nibali, with Horner close behind. They're 56 seconds behind the lone leader, and just 12 behind the Contador group.

15:44 CET    198.5km/3km to go
Contador realises they'll have to work to hang on for second to fourth places, as the bunch gets closer and closer. The road is still descending. Dekker tries to slow things down for Posthuma, but not for long.

Rodriguez has now reached a flatter section.

15:46 CET    199.5km/2km to go
Posthuma attacks the two chasers and powers are, gunning for second place today. Better than nothing.

Rodriguez keeps the pressure on, he's hurting a lot though, and doesn't look smooth at all. But it's not all about looks, it's about riding fast. Well, some of it's about looks.

15:47 CET    200.5km/1km to go
Rodriguez hits the final kilometre as Posthuma looks to have second place sewn up. Third will be close though - Contador and Moncoutié might be caught.

15:48 CET    201.5km/0km to go
Joaquin Rodriguez rides up to the finish to win his second Paris-Nice stage after a very solid ride on the final climb. Posthuma is second at 18 seconds, then the bunch sprint for third is taken by Pineau at 34 seconds. No change to the GC, and Landis keeps the jersey by nine seconds.

Until tomorrow!


1 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    4.43.34
2 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank                                0.19
3 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                         0.33
4 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                      
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas                            
6 Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux                      
7 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                 
8 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                              
9 Christopher Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto                  
10 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance                         

General classification after stage 5
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                24.11.04
2 Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre-Fondital           0.09
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                       1.13
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears           1.23
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                     
6 José Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        1.35
7 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                      1.37
8 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole                      1.39
9 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team   1.40
10 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                  1.41

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