GRAND PRIX OF ESSEX
It was business as usual for Paul Curran in Sunday's Grand Prix of Essex with the Manchester Wheeler scoring his second successive win in this annual opening round of the Star Trophy, the season-long road race competition he has dominated for the last three seasons.
If it sounds all too easy, then do not be fooled as Curran worked hard for the £140 first prize in this Anglia Sport race. The Stockton-on-Tees rider did not join the action until half-distance when he went with a chasing group which did not catch the leaders until less than four miles to go. Ben Luckwell (VC St Raphael), Dave Spencer (Paragon RT) and Geoff Platts (Charnwood CRC) were still away when Curran went in pursuit with Karl Smith (Paragon RT).
They made contact in the closing stages for Curran to attack again, this time taking Luckwell in tow whom he beat in the uphill sprint finish. Spencer was third, coming in ahead of Smith and Platts up Halstead's High Street.
"It sort of went to plan," Curran explained. "I left it a bit late. We got the break down to a minute but it just stayed there and I did not think we would do it. With a lap to go it was a do-or-die effort. I did a few hard turns, then attacked straight away. I could not leave Luckwell but he was not going to beat me in the sprint.
"The rain showers today were quite welcome. I put too many clothes on and was quite hot."
Curran was definitely too hot for Luckwell. "When Curran attacked I got his wheel, but I was not able to go past," he said. "I did not have anything left at the finish. I had been away all day."
Luckwell had problems cornering and had to put in big efforts to get back after several bends. "I was on new high-pressure wheels I had just bought. They did not have any tread, but I did not think it was going to rain today."
Despite his tyres, Luckwell reckoned this was his best-ever ride and he would now be aiming for the national team trial squad. "I am the ideal build for the team time trial," he said.
The race-long break was formed before the 20-mile mark when Luckwell, Spencer and Platts built up a 40-second lead with Giles Pidcock (Bradford Wheelers), Nick Giles (CC Bowland), Ian Norris (Gosforth RC), Paul Brown (Paragon RT) and Mike Bell (VC Canard).
A chasing group formed behind with Greg Newton and Bernie Burns (Paragon RT), Andrew Chapman (Featherstone RC), Tim Hall (Wembley RC) and Nigel Bishop (ABC Centreville) who caught Spencer after 35 miles when he punctured. Seven miles later Spencer rejoined the break when the two groups merged.
Service crews were running short of wheels after several spates of punctures, with some epic rides off the back of the bunch as riders tried to rejoin. Steve Farrell (GS Strada) took 12 miles to get back, while another pre-race favourite, Eamonn Rooney (Alpha RC) rejoined in two miles.
When the break had reached a maximum advantage of 2-25, the bunch came to life, splitting in two under the pressure and sending Curran's chasing group clear at 49 miles. The Commonwealth Games road race champion was in the company of Smith, Simon Ball (VC Canard), Pete Longbottom (Manchester Wheelers), David Lund (Middridge CRT), Philip Sheard (Bradford Wheelers), Andrew Wilkinson (Port Sunlight Wheelers), David Cook (Ferryhill Wheelers) and Harry Lodge (Chiltern RC).
They soon closed the gap down to a minute, but could get no closer. The bunch gradually slipped back to 2-20, but things stayed the same at the front until the second of the three 10-mile finishing circuits, when Platts went clear of the break with Spencer. Luckwell and Brown chased them and the four were together as they climbed Halstead High Street for the penultimate time.
Things were looking good for Paragon RT with two riders away with 10 miles to go, but then Brown crashed on the hill, touching Platts' wheel according to Luckwell.
Brown went back to the remains of the rest of the break which lost Bishop with a puncture and dropped Pidcock.
The scene was set for Curran's last lap moves. Big efforts were made on the front of the chasing group and the magic minute barrier was broken. Then it was time for attack number one with Karl Smith which closed the 22 seconds on the remaining three, then straight into attack number two with Luckwell and then victory.
Consolation for the defeated was that Curran was due to fly to Texas the following Tuesday so at least they would get a three-week rest before the master returns, and then it is back to the old routine.
1. PAUL CURRAN (Manchester Wh-Trumanns) 145km in
2. B. Luckwell (VC St Raphael) at 1sec
3. D. Spencer (Paragon RT) at 6sec
4. K. Smith (Paragon RT) at 7sec
5. G. Platts (Charnwood CRC) at 9sec
6. D. Lund (Middridge CRT) at 32sec
7. P. Sheard (Bradford Wh)
8. B. Burns (Paragon RT)
9. A. Chapman (Featherstone RC) all st
10. G. Newton (Paragon RT) at 38sec
11. A. Wilkinson (Port Sunlight Wh)
12. T. Schools (CC Bowland)
13. P. Longbottom (Manchester Wh)
14. N. Bishop (ABC Centreville)
15. I. Norris (Gostorth RC) all st
16. P. Brown (Paragon RT) at 42sec
17. D. Cook (Ferryhill Wh)
18. S. Ball (VC Canard)
19. M. Bell (VC Canard)
20. H. Lodge (Chiltern RC) all st.
REPORT ROBERT GARBUTT, PICTURES DAVID WORTHY