We join the race as it is nearing its completion.
Big news: Race leader Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo) has pulled out with a stomach bug!! This is a shocker, and the race is now wide open. Frigo was the huge favorite after his domination in stages 2 and 4.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Quickstep-Davitamon) said after his excellent 4th place in the Stage 4 time trial that he was back, and that he couldn't win Paris-Nice this year, but he would try to have a go next year. Well, good old Frank was playing possum.
He is currently off the front with a lead of about 3' 30" with Santiago Perez (Phonak) on this crucial mountain stage. There is a long way to go to the finish, but Frank certainly isn't waiting until next year to try to win this race!!
Vinokourov (Telekom) won this stage last year to take the lead. This year he is in the Yellow now, and he has a host of ONCEs breathing down his neck.
Vandenbroucke and Perez look cool on the Cols. Their lead is down to 2" as the peloton chases in earnest. They've been out front for 50km. They won't be able to hold off everyone, even if they do make it to Mount Faron in the lead.
28 km to go. There are only 28 km left, but man there is some serious climbing left to go. The peloton is winding its way through some traffic medians in pursuit of Vandenbroucke and Perez. The peloton is strung out now, as the hammer is on.
The lead is now down to 1' 20". Apparently, several members of the Fassa squad were hit by the bug that took down Frigo, including his team manager. Maybe some bad brie? Or not.
Strangely, Fassa Bortolo has three riders on the front of the peloton. They must be working for Volodomir Gustov, now their team leader. He is currently in 5th place 37" behind Vinokourov.
Vandenbroucke and Perez are still taking turns, working hard. Telekom and Fassa Bortolo have done the work to lead the chase. ONCE has just been sitting on. They are in the position they want right now, while Vinokourov will be exposed on the climb (unless Julich and Kessler find a new level today).
21 km left. Lots of teams and riders are jockeying for position now leading into the base of the all-important final climb.
The leaders Vandenbroucke and Perez are now on the first of the two small climbs before the big finale. However, they are now getting swept up by the peloton led by a Gerolsteiner rider.
Now here comes an attack from a rider in red! It is Alexandre Moos, the Swiss Champion from Phonak in his national champion's jersey! He has a good gap on the incline up this 2nd category climb.
There are still a lot of men in the bunch. Some men are falling off the back, but there is still a large group in pursuit of Moos. Now here comes a Milaneza-MSS rider in pursuit of Moos.
Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) is probably having some nice things to say right now. He was complaining bitterly in the press about the non-sprinter friendly course this year. Still, he needs the race miles in his legs...his sprint has been less than impressive since he came to Europe, and as a top flight sprinter, he has to find some form soon.
Last year he gave Cipollini a good run for his money in the early stages of the Giro. Hopefully he can pull his form together in order to do that again this year.
There is a breakaway of four on the descent now. Brochard (AG2r) is in the group. Rui Sousa is the Milaneza rider, and Moos is in there.
The peloton is only 15" back, twisting through the French countryside with the Fassa boys in the lead.
13 km left. Sandy Casar (FDJeux.com), who was 2nd last year, is the fourth man in the breakaway. This is a very dangerous 4-man break indeed!!
Brochard is leading the bomb on the descent. Big Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) is leading the strung-out peloton on the chase. Merckx is really hammering on the very technical descent, leaning his large rig over the bike with his leg to the side on a 180 degree switchback.
This is very entertaining to watch: Brochard leading the descent for the breakaways, Merckx leading the chase in the pack. Both men are outstanding descenders, and keep hanging it out full speed without any brakes into the many curves and twists in the road.
Here comes Virenque! The Quickstep rider is now leading the peloton; he's a local, and knows the road. Vinokourov is also there at the front of the peloton. They are now leading up to the final climb now.
Sousa now attacks the group of four! He was a passenger in the break, and now he has got a gap and is flying up the approach to Mt. Faron.
Here comes an attack out of the pack by an Euskaltel-Euskadi rider. Moos has been dropped by Brochard and Casar, who are about to nail back Sousa.
Brochard, Casar, and Sousa are now on the lower slopes of the Faron. Moos is a ways back, then the Euskaltel rider, then the peloton. The gap is still around 20".
The peloton now winds up the steep lower slopes. The average gradient is about 9%, with the steepest part about 12%.
Brochard has now gotten away. Casar is the only one to chase, but he isn't able to bridge. Brochard is really looking good! That would be a big coup for Captain Mullet and his boys in their drive for Tour selection!
Now another big attack from an Euskaltel rider, but it goes nowhere, chased by a Milaneza rider. Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) is third wheel, and Vinokourov is on Rebellin's wheel.
Casar is now trying to nail back Brochard again...he's closing the gap, but the peloton is closing fast!
Claus Moller (Milaneza-MSS) is now setting the pace in the remnants of the peloton. The hammer is down and the riders in the pack are all strung out. They are about halfway up the final climb.
2 km to go. Vinokourov is now moving up to Moller's wheel. Now a Kelme rider takes over the pacemaking. No big, decisive attacks like we were expecting. Wait, here goes Vino! The 'Wineman' puts in a big attack! He flies by Casar!
Here he goes, Vino passes Brochard! Vino is riding in his Green jersey, not the Yellow, but he is the race leader and now he's winning the toughest climb so far!
Rebellin is trying like all get-out to get back up to Vino. No luck yet, but Rebellin has a big gap on the rest of the field.
This is deja-vu, as last year Vinokourov laid the foundations for his overall victory on this same climb! Rebellin has bonked! And Tyler Hamilton (CSC) [correction: Carlos Sastre] has Rebellin's wheel now!!
Vinokourov is looking like a monster! He is just hammering up the climb. Sastre and Rebellin are taking turns now, Rebellin looking to have gained some of his composure back now. Now Rebellin is dropped by the CSC rider [Sastre]!
Vinokourov wins it! Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) comes from nowhere to win second!
Merckx and Virenque cross at 1' 38". Lots of riders strung out all over, but the time gaps between the leaders were very small.
On the podium, Vinokourov is overcome with emotion. He promised to win this race for his good friend Andrei Kivilev, who passed away after a Stage 2 accident.
Stage 5 Results:
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom)
2. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco)
3. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) @ 6"
4. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 6"
5. Laurent Brochard (AG2r) @ 10"
6. David Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) @ 10"
7. David Bernabeu (Milaneza-MSS) @ 12"
8. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) @ 18"
9. Mikel Zarrabeitia (ONCE-Eroski) @ 18"
10. Ivan Parra (Kelme-Costa Blanca) @ 20"
GC after Stage 5:
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) 14h 26' 11"
2. Mikel Zarrabeitia (ONCE-Eroski) @ 42"
3. David Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) @ 53"
Watch for race report and full results, to come shortly...and please excuse our technical difficulties with today's live coverage.