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Three years on from his first Paris-Nice victory on a gusty day on the Croisette at Cannes, Joaquin Rodriguez tasted success again on 'the race to the sun'. The industry-ringed Alpine foothills town of Digne les Bains may not have quite the glamour of the Cote d'Azur resort, but the victory was just as special for the 26 year old as it was his first for his new Caisse d'Epargne team.
The lead stayed with Floyd Landis, whose Phonak team controlled his rivals well coming into Digne, although there are still plenty of tests to come in the final two days of the race.
After students once again demonstrated at the start of the stage in Avignon against rising unemployment and associated reforms being introduced by the French government, the race started with a flurry, instigated by Cofidis' Thierry Marichal, who was active at the end of Thursday's stage. As the race skirted mighty Mont Ventoux and headed onto the first-cat Notre Dame des Abeilles climb, Marichal's assault had already been hauled back, and the break of the day was forming.
It was started by Francis Mourey (FDJ) and Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros), who were soon joined by David Moncouti (Cofidis) and Rodriguez. On the descent this quartet was joined by Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Jrome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), and Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom). Although the bunch was content to let them go, the pace was still enough to force the abandons of sprinters Allan Davis (Liberty) and Danilo Napolitano (Lampre).
The key climb was always likely to be the Col du Corobin, a deceptively tricky climb that heads off the main into Digne and sharply up and over a mountain into the city. Locals will have been hoping the decisive move would come from a French rider, most probably Moncouti, who broke clear on this same climb at the Tour last year on the way to a Bastille Day stage win in Digne. But instead it came from Posthuma, and it was fierce enough to drop everyone, although Rodriguez fought his way up to the Dutchman and broke clear on his own a kilometre from the summit.
Although chased down from the summit all the way into Digne, Rodriguez clung on to his advantage, with Posthuma second and Pineau third at the head of a group containing the main contenders.
"Paris Nice is really a race I love very much," said Rodriguez at the finish. "Today I knew you had to attack early and that's what I did. When I found myself with Contador and Moncouti, I knew they would be hard to beat and my only chance would be to make my move in the last climb. It worked fine. Tomorrow in Cannes, I hope to be well placed again and win. Why not, as I won in the same place in 2003?"
Stage 5, Avignon-Digne les Bains
1 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 201.5km in 4.43.34 (42.64kph)
2 Joost Posthuma (Hol) Rabobank 0.19
3 Jrome Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 0.33
4 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
6 Sandy Casar (Fra) Franaise des Jeux
7 Erik Dekker (Hol) Rabobank
8 Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC
9 Christopher Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 24.11.04
2 Patxi Vila (Spa) Lampre 0.09
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel 1.13
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 1.23
6 Jos Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel 1.35
7 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 1.37
8 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 1.39
9 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.40
10 Dekker 1.41
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