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Curran's epic duel in the rain

FIRST-time visitor Paul Curran won an epic Manx International for Great Britain by the width of a tyre from local hero Steve Porter, after climbing kings Paul Watson and Darryl Webster had ripped each other to shreds on the final mountain drag.

Third place went to Steve Farrell (GS Strada), just reward for a superb ride, with Holland's Patrick van Passel and Frenchman Frederic Garnier at the back of the five-up sprint.

But just 10 miles from the finish the group - which then included Karl Smith (Clayton Velo) - must have been sure that third was the best they could hope for.

Rounding the Gooseneck for the last time, Watson - replacing Peter Sanders in the British team - and Webster (Manchester Wheelers) were a minute clear of the chasers who had themselves been nine at the foot of the climb.

Then suddenly Webster blew, weaving across the road and almost coming to a standstill under the weight of Watson's attack on the run to Guthrie's Memorial and the effects of some of the worst weather for Friday's race in living memory.

But the drama was only just beginning to unfold and as Porter (Manx RC), the strongest of the six, and Farrell got across so Watson also cracked and could only watch as the others disappeared into the fog and rain.

Smith, who had figured in a second lap break with John Tonks (Penn CC) and Mark Gornall (GS Strada) which lasted for 32 miles, was shelled out before the Black Hut to leave just five to fight it out.

Down the mountain Porter and Farrell tried to get away and the two continentals just sat at the back, but coming out of Governor's Bridge it was still all together.

Farrell led out, Porter shot clear up the left-hand gutter with Curran on his wheel and for a moment it looked as if the Manxman might join Steve Joughin in the list of local winners.

But Curran's strength pulled him through in the last few yards for a brilliant victory.

"Albert Hitchen told me to watch Porter because he had a good kick, so I made sure I had his wheel coming out of the last corner," said 24-year-old Currran, the first Manchester Wheeler to win the race and now the new Star Trophy leader.

"I can't sprint on the road so well; but there was a tail wind and this was like a track sprint.

"I thought on the last lap that we would only be going for third, nobody was really chasing or driving through. I couldn't believe it when the two disappeared into the mist and then came back as three!

It's great, it's a coveted race to win.

"I was stuffed a little bit on the first climb and having a bit of a job just to hang on."

For Porter, winner of Monday's Willaston Handicap, the race crowned a fine week. Out of form since the Sealink, he had been going through a rough spell and needed a boost to morale.

"I judged it about right but Paul just had the legs on me," said the 21-year-old runner-up. I was coming back again at the line so another 10 yards and I might have made it.

"I felt I was the strongest from Kirk Michael on the last lap but every time I had a go they brought me back."

"I'm pleased about that," said Farrell, who for a while wasn't sure whether or not he had held on to third. "I had to try and get away because I can't sprint - it was a very hard race, but that must be my best performance."

Frenchman Didier Arbault beat Tonks, Smith and England's Alan Gornall in a sprint for sixth with Watson losing five minutes in 12th and Webster, who had to be lifted off his bike, 17th at 10.25.

"I just blew," said Webster. "I did too much earlier and I paid for it - I'll just have to learn from the experience."

After three days of sun, the weather changed with a vengeance. Rain, whipped by a force 6 gale, lashed down at the start and apart from odd breaks around the back of the TT circuit, continued to fall until the closing stages. With visibility down to 20 yards on the mountain it was no fun, and nobody blamed Dave Ferguson (North Lanes RC) for calling it a day as early as Bray Hill, half a mile into the race.

The first break, however, formed as early as Union Mills with Watson, Farrell, Tonks, Roy Chamberlain (Kirkby CC), Cayn Theakston (Hull Thursday), Drew Wilson (Scotland) and Jean-Pierre Mallejac (France) away by 16 seconds at Ballacraine.

And as the chase began, a crash claimed Belgian danger man Ortaire Goossens, Richard fletcher (Isle of Man) and John Cosgrove (Coventry Olympic). Goossens was paced back by Eric van Harek, but by the time they joined the rear of the race the bunch had already split to pieces.

By Ginger Hall Werner Wieme (Holland), Gildas Yvinac (France) and Porter had joined the leading seven who were 1-6 up on Webster and Ludo Giesberts (Belgium), with the back group at 2-6.

The chopping and changing continued over the mountain and the effect of it all was devastating with the front groups merging on the descent to reduce the contenders by half the 60 starters. Some good men had already gone on a 1-39 lap, including England's Adrian Timmis who stopped to don his cape and never saw the front again.

Still the attacks continued with Watson first again at the Creg Willys prime - giving him four out of four - before Smith and Mark Gornall took off, followed shortly by Tonks.

By Sulby Bridge they led by 1-20 and the gap was up to 1½ minutes at the Gooseneck as Webster organised the chase.

All three leaders took a prime along the way, but the margin was down to 1-5 at the Bungalow and before the bell Gornall had dropped back to a first chasing group of eight.

Behind them the rest of the bunch again split in two, and out of Union Mills-with Smith and Tonks in sight - the front two groups merged to form a 14-strong possee.

It was only the signal, however, for another surge by Webster who took Gamier, Porter, Watson, Farrell, van Passel and Alan Gornall with him while Curran and Arbault were soon chasing alone.

Smith and Tonks were reeled in at the Highlander, and by Glen Helen Curran and Arbault were back in touch to make eleven leaders now well over a minute up on Wieme, Mark Gornall, Martin Webster (Manchester Wh), Pete Longbottom (GB), Andrew Matheson (Musselburgh RC) and Jason Ford (Wyevern CC) who had crashed in the dip at Governor's Bridge but rejoined.

Creg Willys and Webster attacked again before Watson took the prime. Tonks and Gamier joined them at the front, Curran discarded his red cape as the sun tried to break through and, after a chase, it was eleven-up again by Kirk Michael and the other six at 1-50.

Porter put in a spurt, Curran tried, and then again it was Webster away up the road with Watson. It looked like the decisive move as the pair gained 45 seconds between Quarry Bends and Lezayre, and stretched it to a minute at Ramsey.

Arbault was detached as the chasers tackled the bottom of the climb, but higher up the drama was unfolding. Watson kicked hard away from the Gooseneck and suddenly Webster was weaving all over the road. A look over his shoulder told Watson all he needed to know and another hard burst left him clear.

Porter and Farrell were now powering up in hot pursuit with Curran, van Passel and Garnier but minus Tonks and Alan Gornall. And then just as quickly Watson, on a high after the Milk Race, had nothing left, victim, too, of the course and the conditions.

It had been a tremendous duel.


1. PAUL CURRAN (GB) 113 1/4m in 5-3-47
2. S. Porter (Manx RC)
3. S. Farrell (G5 Strada)
4. P. Van Passel (Holland)
5. F. Gamier (France) all st
6. D. Arbault (Fr) at 1.45
7. J. Tonks (Penn CC)
8. K. Smith (Clayton Velo)
9. A. Gornall (England) all st
10. W. Wieme (Hol) at 4-41
11. P. Longbottom (GB) at 4-44
12. P. Watson (GB) at 5-3
13. M. Webster (Manchester Wh) at 6-40
14. J. Ford (Wyevern CC) st
15. A. Matheson (Musselburgh RCC) at 6-41
16. M. Gornall (GS Strada) at 9.36
17. D. Webster (Manchester Wh) at 10-25
18. G. Yvinec (France) at 12-14
19. C. Walker (England) st
20. P. Georgi (Mid-Devon RC) at 14-2
21. P. Kennaugh (IoM) at 15-2
22. M. Kelly (IoM) st
23. C. Theakston (Hull Thursday) at 22.14
24. T. Hall (New Brighton CC) at 22.17.

Team - GB (Curran, Longbottom, Watson) 24
Club teams - GS Strada-Austin Steel (Farrell, A. Gornall, M. Gornall) 28
King of the Mountains - Watson.