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Stage 4: Aberystwyth to Llandudno (94 miles)

Curran's strength helps him cash in on stage victory

PAUL Curran had far more satisfaction from winning the fourth stage of the Milk Race from Aberystwyth to Llandudno yesterday than most victors would normally experience. It meant that the Crown-Chafes team he joined this year can carry on for at least another few weeks.

The team's main sponsor has had to make cutbacks in budgets, and the riders, who have gone without salaries in recent weeks, have agreed to pool their winnings to keep the squad in competition."Things can't go on like this for much Curran said. "There will have to be a day of decision soon." In the meantime, his winnings of more than £1,200 will go into the pool.

His winning move, which started after 12 miles of the 94-mile stage, was not entirely inspired by a mercenary concern. He had a bad day on Wednesday, losing a lot of time through mechanical difficulties.

"It was disappointing to be so far back before today's start," he said, "so I wanted to restore my morale." Curran, like Shane Sutton before him, decided on a lone ride. He is reserved both on and off the bike, and he chose not to seek company yesterday so that he could set his own pace and ride his own tactical race.

The course was well suited to him: Curran is a strong climber and, as a former British hill climb champion, he had no fears of the route ahead: Bwlch-y-Groes, Foelas, and the finish at the summit of the forbidding Great Orme.

Curran, riding on roads closed by police marshalls, was continually swinging from one side to the other to gain maximum protection from the wind. He built steadily on his advantage and at Machynlleth, after four miles in front, had an advantage of 45 seconds. Not so fortunate were some of his chasers, five of whom crashed into a traffic bollard on a sharp right hand bend in the town. Unluckiest was John Harris, of New Zealand, who was taken to Aberystwyth hospital; he was discharged, but still under medical care.

Ruud Poels, of the Netherlands, went clear in pursuit of Curran and was joined after a speedy descent - sometimes just topping 60mph - of the Bwlch by Gary Baker, of Ever Ready, and Laurent Mazeaud, a French amateur. The three worked well together and posed a threat to Curran. They began to chip away seconds from his lead, but the rider from Stockton-on-Tees rallied, climbing the second mountain strongly, although the two-mile ascent took him 15 minutes. Time checks showed that his advantage had increased to 2min 10sec alongside Lake Bala.

Behind the three immediate challengers the main field had regrouped and started their own chase in earnest on the final 20 miles. The leading British amateur, Wayne Randle, was not with them. He had crashed on a descent, badly cutting his left arm, although after treatment he decided to continue.

Curran's last challenge was the Great Orme, a peak overlooking Llandudno, approached by a narrow road that circled the hill. Baker, leading overall in the moutains competition, and his two companions, were 2min 1sec behind with four miles remaining, with the main bunch coming up swiftly at 3min 40sec.

It was going to be a close thing for Curran, alone in the lead for 82 miles, but his strength lasted and he crossed the line alone to celebrate his first Milk Race stage victory in six starts.

Two miles behind, Baker's chances of second place vanished when his chain jammed between his two front rings. It was only a 10-second delay, but on an ascent, and at such a critical point of the race, it was tragedy for him.

Poels jumped away from Mazeaud near the summit to finish 1min 49sec behind Curran. Shane Sutton retained his yellow jersey as race leader, with a 41-second advantage over Tom Bamford, of New Zealand.

1. P Curran (Crown Chafes), 3hrs 56mins 7sec
2. R Pools (Neth), at 1min 49sec
3. L Mazeaud (Fr) at 2:04
4. G Baker (Ever-Ready) at 2:22
5. J McLoughlin (Ever-Ready) at 2:51
6. C Walker (Banana-Falcon), same time
7. R Holden (Banana-Falcon), same time
8. J Van de Laer (Tulip), same time
9. V Sapronov (USSR), at 2:52
10. S Farrell (GB), at 2:53.

Overall: 1, S Sutton(Banana-Falcon), l8hr I8mins 13sec; 2, T Bamford (NZ), at 41sec; 3, R Holden (Banana-Falcon), at 2:39; 4, M Vaslcek (Cz), at 2:40; 5, 0 Thueux (Fr), at 2:52; 6. C Walker (Banana-Falcon), at 3:27.

Overall team: 1, Banana-Falcon, 54hr 21mm 44sec; 2, Tulip, 54.27.55; 3, New Zealand, 54.28.12.

Mountains: 1,0 Baker (Ever-Ready), 60pts; 2, M Vasicek (Cz). 46; 3, P Curran (Crown-Chafes), 34