TOUR OF THE PEAK
Stunning, that is the only way to describe Paul Curran's predictable victory in Sunday's Tour of the Peak, organised by the South Manchester RC and sponsored by Lowther Office Equipment and Kennedy Brothers Publishing.
It was Curran's second successive victory in this tough 87-mile circuit of the beautiful but painfully hilly Peak District in which he also wrapped up his fourth consecutive victory in the season-long Star Trophy competition on the eve of his departure for the Seoul Olympics.
Predictable though Curran's win was, it was nevertheless a remarkable display of road racing violence at its best, with his attacks, when they came, raining like hammer blows on rivals powerless to respond with any sort of proper cohesion.
Curran (Manchester Wheelers-Trumanns Steel) had them licked once again as he crossed the line alone at Buxton, after 87 miles in a time 3-42-31. Second was his training mate, Norman Dunn, also Manchester Wheelers, trailing him at 1-46 and outsprinting Chris Young (Paragon RT).
A couple of seconds later came Paul Rogers (VC St Raphael), just ahead of fifth-placed Jeff Wright (Tyne Velo) who earns the distinction of being the only man to stay with Curran when the King scattered the rest like nine pins on the second ascent of the Snake Pass.
Sixth was Pete Longbottom, Curran's number one helper in the Manchester Wheelers. And he was followed closely by Barrie Clarke (Wembley RC). Then came the winner of the Gibbsport King of the Mountains title, John Tanner (Chesterfield Coureurs Ness), keeping this award in the club following Wayne Randle's success last year.
Four more completed the chasing group, while national road race champion Neil Hoban (Vulcan CRC) led in a second chasing group in 13th place, over three minutes behind.
So no one could break this man of habit, Curran, who attacked at the exact spot on the four-mile Snake Pass as last year.
Like an action-replay, he took up the chase of 14 men who lay ahead - exactly the same scene as 1987 - to eventually leave them all powerless in his wake. And if the succession of attacks on the Snake were impressive, the killer-blow on the wicked 1-in-5 gradient of Winnats Pass was so shockingly quick, no executioner could have carried out the sentence better.
Despite the fact that early attacks never succeed, riders game for a gamble offered themselves off the front in search of glory. Among them were Mark McKay (Invicta RC) and David Brooker (VC Etoile) who escaped to tackle the first prime, Chunal Head (11.5m). It was Brooker who took the prime and who went bravely on to attack and take the Snake Pass prime (18m) after his companion was dropped half-way up the climb to the bare, but purple-clad heather folds high in the Pennines.
McKay crossed the summit 50 seconds down, and the 72-rider peloton massed in colourful profusion, rose up over the flanks of the wind-swept mountain at 1-10. They were broken up but not for long. Tanner, the man who would be mountain's king, made his entry on stage at Bradwell. This was after the 10-mile, 50mph descent off the Snake to the Ladybower Reservoir, where the race turned right to catch the leaders in the strong wind which would tear at them for the next 20 miles across the Peak Forest.
Tanner took the Bradwell prime after 36 miles, from a large group which had formed at the bottom of the Snake Pass. He stormed this short rise, coming after a long drag, to cross the prime line just ahead of Brooker. Then came a useful posse, with Bernie Burns (Paragon RT) taking third ahead of Curran and Brian Johnson (Wembley RC).
Their slight advantage encouraged Curran to step on the gas and the five men with him moved rapidly away in a move Curran hoped would surprise the rest. "I didn't want to be too predictable," he said later, after being oh so predictable.
Curran drove hard and like the other attackers earlier, he gambled on staying clear. Some you win, some you lose. This was one move he lost.
And this break, with Steve Farrell (GS Strada), Roger Dunne (Harp RC), who figured strongly last year, Wright, Dave Lund (Middridge CRT) and Tanner, was taken back by the edgy main field. The gap closed on Chinley Head (48 miles) just after the start of the second circuit. But Curran's 14-mile sortie in that group had been a timely warning. In fact, all race he had been close to the front, easily spotted in his bright yellow crash helmet.
A few miles later, Tanner tore away in impressive style, taking Johnson with him and they crossed Chunal Head in that order, 32 seconds ahead of the main field.
As the race prepared to take Glossop by storm for the second and last time, Curran hatched his plot. When Tanner and Johnson fled around the right-hander in Glossop town centre, they had 38 seconds on the man who would shortly knock everyone into pecking order.
Paul Curran tantalised the field in the Tour of the Peak, seemingly intent on breaking the race up early - not his usual style. But in the end, the killer-punch came near the end, as expected.
Had he a change of plan?
"I don't like to become too predictable," he replied. "When there was a group of five of us I knew we would swing into a headwind. And I felt, the way the bunch was racing today, they might give up into a headwind. But they chased and brought us back - I was wrong.
"So that was a wasted effort. I had a few miles to recover before the Snake Pass, so I thought I'd try again there."
Reminded that 12 months ago he had launched his winning attack from the same place, Curran said. "That was the place to start racing - to split it up there. It split on the first ascent, but they all regrouped but the second time I thought they wouldn't. So I went as hard as I could up there - and caught the group up, got my breath back a little bit and then went again.
"From the Snake Pass to the start of Winnats I didn't want to be by myself - not like last year -and especially with the headwind. So I was quite happy when two came with me. We worked well - kept going. Tanner was going very well. And up Winnats I thought it might be my last chance."
How did he jump clear so quickly?
"I changed down from 39 x 19 (54 inches) to 39 x 21 (48.9) and jumped. They're the same as having a 42 ring on, but the smaller chainring saves having whacking big sprockets."
How did he think his two companions would react to such a fierce acceleration?
"Well, if you jump that hard, you don't just drop them, you kill their morale. You get the gap, then ease back a bit, which is what I did."
And was the Tour of the Peak a good Olympic workout?
"A hilly race doesn't really matter when the Olympic road race is flat. If you've got the form, you've got the form. Yes, I'm quite happy. A little tired, maybe, but that's because I've done a lot of training through the week."
1. Paul Curran (Manchester Whs)
2. Norman Dunn (Manchester Whs) at 1-46
3. Chris Young (Paragon RT)
4. Paul Rogers (VC St Raphael) at 1-48
5. Jeff Wright (Tyne Velo)
6. Pete Longbottom (Manchester Whs)
7. Barrie Clarke (Wembley RC)
8. John Tanner (Chesterfield Coureurs Ness)