|LINCOLN GRAND PRIX|
PAUL CURRAN (Manchester Wheelers-Trummans Steel) returned to the City of Lincoln in triumph on Sunday when he crushed the opposition to win the Star Trophy Lincoln Grand Prix for the fourth time in six years.
Curran, who returned to the amateur ranks this season after two years with the professionals, was back to the kind of form that made him Britain's top amateur roadman from 1985 until he turned professional. Using the cruel, cobbled Michaelgate climb as a launching pad Curran rode away from his last challenger, Gary Speight (Paragon RT), to ride the last lap of the 13-lap race as a solo time trial.
As the strength ebbed from his legs Speight was caught by David Spencer (Alpha RC) and Mark Gornall (Manchester Wheelers) who rode on to fill second and third places with Speight a game fourth.
It was nearly two minutes before Andrew Perks (Royal Sutton CC) beat Steve Farrell for fifth place and, reflecting the severity of the race, it was 18 minutes before the last man, Northern Ireland's Philip Stewart, finished 50th of the 100 plus starters.
It was an appropriate setting for 'King' Curran's return to the top of the amateur pile, for as he finished in Lincoln's Castle Square he must have remembered his hat-trick of successes in the Grand Prix, in 1986, 1987 and 1988, years when he was the dominating force in the British road racing scene.
His success comes just at the right time, showing that his selection by national coach Doug Dailey for the England team in the Milk Race is warranted.
The day had dawned bright and as the colourful field departed, the Michaelgate climb that dominates the race must have loomed large in the minds of many.
A slight change of course by event organiser, BCF president Ian Emmerson meant that instead of the usual 11 ascensions of the back-breaking climb the field faced an extra two plus an additional climb at the top end of Long Leys Road, before the descent towards the bottom of Michaelgate.
As the race dropped through Burton Village for the first time the bunch was spread over 100 yards and as Michaelgate loomed up, missed gear changes brought several riders to a standstill on the confined cobbled climb and a handful were dropped. That was the pattern for the next two circuits with the odd puncture adding to the misery of riders like John Tanner (Dinnington RC) and Paul Jennings, riding for the GB youth team.
The first break to gain a timeable advantage developed on the twisting descent through Burton Village when Dominic Sweeney (Invicta RC) went clear to be caught by Simon Telford (Ridley CC) on Long Leys Road. By Michaelgate the front of the bunch was up to them and it was Spencer who took the Lincolnshire Echo King of the Castle ahead of Sweeney and Star Trophy leader Mark Gornall (Manchester Wheelers).
Spencer and Sweeney kept the pressure on to go through the Roman-built Newport archway with a 14 seconds lead. That extended to 29 seconds before the duo were hauled back.
With four painful climbs of Michaelgate in their legs the field had already showed signs of splitting as the speed went up on the flat sections. 'It is about now that the race usually splits up,' BCF chief executive Jim Hendry and national road coach Bernie Burns said as we followed behind the hunch in the Press car.
Their prediction came true as we trundled up the spectator-lined Michaelgate. 'There's a big split in the bunch.' the race radio reported as we hurtled out of Lincoln. Down the road we could see a fair sized group some 70 yards clear of the strung-out bunch.
It took some time to establish who was there. By the time they were identified they were over 30 seconds clear.
There were some big hitters up there, Curran, Mark Gornall, Steve Farrell, Simon Lillistone (Team Haverhill), Spencer, Tim Hall (Ace RT), Pete Longhottom (Manchester Wheelers), Andrew Perks, Sweeney, and Richard Hughes (Manchester Wheelers), Lee Burns (Bradford Wheelers), Stephen Clark (City of Edinhurgh), Jeff Snodin (Invicta RC), Philip Stewart and Jeremy Hunt (GB Youth).
Lillistone was the first to lose his place with the leaders as they lifted their pace so that after eight miles the 14 leaders led by 1-5 from an 11-strong group that had formed behind them. The 11 were Mark Sinclair (Alpha RC), Simon Bray (Invicta RC), Eric Rigby (Calder Clarion), Mike Jones (Royal Sutton CC), Gary Speight, Norman Dunn (Paragon RT), Andrew Moss (Northern Ireland), Kevin Dawson (Askern CC), Brian Tinsley (Solihull CC), Scotland's James Millar and Spencer Wingrave (Team Haverhill).
Back with the leaders Stewart and Clark, the national junior sprint champion, were shelled out over Michaelgate as the break split as Spencer took the hill-top prime for the sixth time in succession.
Out of Castle Square and five were away, Spencer, Curran, Longbottom, Hall and Perks. A succession of time checks showed their progress, 19 seconds, 27 seconds and 29 seconds. Meanwhile the group they had left
was being overhauled at a rapid rate was being overhauled at a rapid rate by the 11 chasers.
On Long Leys Road the two groups merged and as Spencer took the 10th climb over Michaelgate only 20 seconds separated the break from the chasers. What was left of the main bunch was dying a death at 3-10.
On the fast roads towards Burton eight cleared off from the chasing group, Dunn, who was doing the lion's share of the work, Rigby, Mark Gornall, Speight, Jones, Farrell, Moss and Millar.
Out of Burton and the eight had tagged on to Curran's break, but not for long for shortly after the merger Curran made his move, sprinting hard from the back of the group with only Speight able to go after him.
Off of the wide Fen Road towards the Long Ley climb and the pair were 25 seconds ahead of a chasing Rigby with the rest at 31 seconds. Curran and Speight climbed Michaelgate for the 11th time, riding on opposite sides of the road taking advantage of the smoother band of cobbles that edged the road.
Rigby, meanwhile had been joined by Spencer and Mark Gornall. 'This trio were at 40 seconds while the rest of the former break were a further 12 seconds clown the road, with some 15 miles remaining.
Curran and Speight forged on as the following trio pulled back 10 seconds on them, but over the Leys Lane climb Rigby was in trouble, cramp in his right leg forced him to sit up leaving Gornall and Spencer to chase the Curran-Speight tandem in a more even battle.
Speight cracked on the penultimate Michaelgate climb as Curran put the pressure on, leaving the Manchester Wheeler star to battle on alone to score what must he one of his sweetest victories.
Spencer and Gornall soon caught Speight and on the climb before Michaelgate, Spencer made his move. His companions had no reply to his violent attack. It was left to Gornall and Speight to fill third and fourth places with Gornall adding a useful nine points to his total as leader of' the Star Trophy table.
IT'S SOME while since Paul Curran has looked so happy. Still sitting on his bike he looked as pleased as Punch as he accepted the congratulations of all and sundry. His two years away from the amateur scene had not gone the way he would have wished, with both of the teams he rode for folding up as he tried to establish himself with the professionals.
The decision to revert to amateur status was made without too much heart searching and slowly but surely Curran worked at getting back to the top. He had finished fifth in the Archer Grand Prix and third in the Hope Valley road race, both Star Trophy events, before winning at Lincoln.
The win was a long time in coming as far as Curran was concerned.' I had placings but had not won and I needed to win to give me confidence,' Curran explained. 'Success is 70 per cent fitness and 30 per cent confidence, I had the fitness but not the confidence. I needed to prove myself.
'I had a hard Tour of Lancs (where he finished 10th overall) and that must have given my legs the hard ride they needed. It was a wearing down race today, 13 times up that hill (Michaelgate) was a lot, but at least I will know the way to the finish when the Milk Race comes here in a couple of weeks time,' Curran went on.
Curran's winning move came on the flat. He did not want to risk leaving it to the Michaelgate as David Spencer had already shown he would be the man to beat by taking seven of the climbing primes. 'Spencer was the strongest one in the race today,' Curran said.
'Curran's rivals might like to know that his' legs had begun to go' on the last couple of laps. All will admit that he hid his weakness pretty well.
1. PAUL CURRAN (Manchester Wh-Trummans
Steel) 102m in 3-58-55
2. D. Spencer (Alpha RC) at 39sec
3. M. Gornall (Manchester Wh) at 47sec
4. G. Speight (Paragon RT) at 54sec
5. A. Perks (Royal Sutton CC) at 1-47
6. S. Farrell (Tunstall Wh)
7. M. Jones (Royal Sutton CC)
8. S. Bray (Invicta RC)
9. P. Longbottom (Manchester Wh) all st
10. N. Dunn (Paragon RT) at 1-56
11. A. Moss (Northern Ireland) at 2-0
12. T. Hall (Ace RT)
13. J. Millar (Scotland) both st
14. K. Dawson (Askern CC) at 2-20
15. E. Rigby (Calder CT) st
16. B. Tinsley (Solihull CC) at 2-29
17. J. Snodin (Invicta RC) at 6-54
18. D. Sweeney (Invicta RC) at 7-10
19. S. Clark (City of Edinburgh) at 7-12
20. S. Wingrave (Team Haverhill) at 7 -59.