The 28th Girvan three-day in Scotland may have been contested by the smallest field in the race's history but it produced a tense battle finally won by Paul Curran, who held on thanks to his own cool head and the work of his Optimum Performance team-mates.
EVERGREEN Paul Curran on Monday became the first rider to score three Girvan victories - exactly 10 years after his last win. Back in 1985 he was racing in the blue of Manchester Wheelers as an amateur. Now, as a reinstated ex-pro, he wears the fluorescent yellow of Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar.
Curran has no recollection of that 1985 ride - there have been plenty of successes in the intervening years, including two Commonwealth Games golds and a professional criterium title. Now, at 33, he reckons he isn't as strong as he was a decade ago. 'I'm probably a bit more relaxed in the way I ride,' he believes. 'I don't fly into a panic when a move goes up the road these days.'
He insists he doesn't set himself specific targets. 'Every race is a target,' he says. Later in the year he expects to defend his national motor-paced title and reckons that road racing and motor-paced complement each other.
Curran finished the four stages in three days with six seconds to spare over the man who many felt was the moral victor of last year's snow-hit event, John Tanner, riding for a combined Tritech-Peugeot squad.
'The form is starting to come back,' said Tanner, last season's Premier Calendar champion. 'I knew Curran would be a hard man to get rid of,' he added after collecting his third second placing of the season.
Optimum Performance took the lion's share of the £2,500 prize list, with Curran winning overall and taking a stage, Wayne Randle winning a stage and Ray Eden scoring a surprise win in the mountains contest. Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech won two stages, through Rod Ellingworth and Rob Holden, while Glenn Holmes took the sprints award.
THE grin said it all as Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar) crossed the line 14 seconds clear of his closest challengers after a typically well thought out victory.
Normally undemonstrative, Curran had plenty to smile about because he also bagged 15 seconds' bonus to help towards a useful 19-second overall lead from stage runner-up Mark Walsham.
The sprint for second place saw Walsham, riding for the combined Tritech-Peugeot squad, win the latest round of his weekly battle with Glenn Holmes (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech), who took third place just ahead of Mark Lovatt (Optimum Perfomance).
After a windswept but dry opening stage, 10 riders were still in with a chance of overall success. As for the rest, there were plenty of hard-luck stories, including a spate of punctures.
It was justice that Optimum should take the stage, for it was one of their men, Ray Eden, who started the action. Attacking to take the Largs Hill prime (15 miles) he ploughed his way to a lone lead, picking up climbers' points as he went.
The bunch wasn't prepared to give Eden too much leeway, although he had a maximum of 45 seconds before a 12-man chasing group started to gain ground. Eden's adventure ended on the windswept heights of Pennyvenie (37 miles) when he was swallowed and then dropped by the chase group that was destined to provide all the leading finishers.
The action had split the race into four groups, with the leading 13 just over a minute clear of 14 chasers. Among the 14 were some big names who had missed the boat, including Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo), Steve Farrell (West Midlands Centre of Excellence) and Rob Holden (Ambrosia).
Even further back were puncture victims Pete Longbottom (North Wirral Velo) and Optimum's Wayne Randle and Kevin Dawson. The trio all suffered punctures in rapid succession and ended the day more than seven minutes down after chasing for over 50 miles.
The leading group stayed together over the final climb at Patna (60 miles), won by John Tanner (Tritech-Peugeot). But Curran was looking strong and it was no surprise when he broke clear with seven miles to go, taking Neil Hoban (Tritech) with him.
With Girvan fast approaching, their lead grew to 35 seconds before the chase group started to nibble away at the gap. At five miles to go it was down to 30 seconds. A mile later the duo was only 20 seconds ahead.
'I knew I'd have to get away from Neil,' said Curran. 'I didn't fancy my chances against him in the sprint, and we looked like getting caught anyway.
'I jumped him after he'd done quite a long turn and was away. You can go harder when you're on your own - you're more committed.'
Curran indeed committed himself to squeezing out every second of time advantage along the Henrietta Street finishing straight, while Hoban dropped back to finish eighth at the rear of the group.
Hoban's team manager Keith Lambert was left shaking his head. 'I can't understand why he worked with Curran if he wasn't confident of beating him at the end. After all, we had two good blokes (Walsham and Tanner) in the group,' he said.
1. Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar)
76m in 2-57-42
2. M. Walsham (Tritech-Peugeot) at 14sec
3. G. Holmes (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech)
4. M. Lovatt (Optimum Performance B)
5. J. Tanner (Tritech)
6. R. Riddle (Scotland)
7. C. Lillywhite (PCA-Karrimor)
8. N. Hoban (Tritech-Peugeot) all st
9. A. Naylor (RT Italia) at 38sec
10. M. McKay (RT Italia) st.
SCORING his first professional victory, Rod Ellingworth added to the Ambrosia Desserts team's growing tally in Saturday night's criterium stage.
The leaders stayed together for most of the 15 laps of a 1.1-mile circuit. As the race entered its final five laps 28 riders were still in contention, with the rest scattered around the course.
With two and a half laps to go, Ellingworth attacked on the 'back straight'. As he raced through the start-finish area his lead was only 200 metres over the bunch which had Tim Hall and the other Ambrosia men clustered at the front to frustrate any chase.
Ellingworth stuck to his task and had even extended the gap by the time he heard the bell. But now the Tritech-Peugeot squad was leading the chase.
Entering the long finishing straight Ellingworth looked doomed. With 100 metres to go the leading chaser, Mark Walsham (Tritech-Peugeot), had almost caught the fugitive.
Ellingworth dug into his reserves and managed to find a final turn of speed to hurtle across the line ahead of top sprinters Walsham and Chris Lillywhite (PCA-Karrimor), with Stuart Dangerfield (West Midlands Centre of Excellence) in fourth spot.
Ellingworth revealed his winning move was a counter-attack after an effort by his team-mate Rob Holden had been nullified by the bunch.
'When Rob was caught I was in fourth or fifth place and just went for it,' he said. 'I blew with a lap to go and was really going down the gears. I thought Walsham was on to me, but I managed to hold out.'
Overall leader Paul Curran took 13th place, while his main rival Walsham collected six seconds bonus for second place on the stage, to cut Curran's overall lead to just six seconds.
1. Rod Elllngworth (Ambrosla/Dyna-Tech) 38-44
2. M. Walsham (Tritech-Peugeot)
3. Lillywhite (PCA-Karrimor)
4. S. Dangertield (W Mids Centre of Exc)
5. C. Newton (N Wirral Velo)
6. G. Holmes (Ambrosia)
7. N. Hoban (Tritech-Peugeot)
8. R. Riddle (Scotland)
9. W. Randle (Optimum Performance)
10. R. Holden (Ambrosia) all st.
Overall.- Paul Curran (Optimum Performance-Power Bar) 3-36-18; 2, Walsham at 6sec; 3, Holmes at l7sec; 4, Lillywhite at 19sec; 5, Riddle at 22sec; 6, J. Tanner (Tritech-Peugeot) st; 7, Hoban at 27sec; 8, M. Lovatt (Optimum Performance) at 29sec; 9, M. McKay (RT Italia) at 53sec; 10, A. Naylor (RT Italia) at 53sec.
A DAY of heroic breakaways and determined chasing ended with Wayne Randle (Optimum Performance-Power Bar) taking the stage victory and his team-mate Paul Curran hanging on to the yellow jersey.
John Tanner (Tritech-Peugeot) emerged as the new challenger overall, sprinting to second place on the stage and moving to second on general classification only six seconds down on Curran.
The heroics came from Irish pair Stephen Maher and Paul Cassidy, riding for Avonmore-Navan, who led for more than 60 miles before being devoured by a chasing group on the run-in to Girvan.
Scottish road champion Graham McGarrity started the action soon after the start. Maher gave chase and then Cassidy joined in, the three riders coming together at 11 miles.
Racing through Robbie Burns's birthplace of Alloway (19 miles) the trio led by three minutes and Cassidy was race leader on the road. McGarrity contributed little to the break, not that the two tall Irishmen would have gained much shelter from the compactly built Scot.
The bunch started to react but made little headway against the three-man Celtic alliance who steadily increased their lead to a maximum of 6-15 at 29 miles.
At Mauchline (34 miles) news came through that a formidable chasing group of Rob Holden (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech), Matt Stephens (North Wirral Velo) and Wayne Randle was rapidly eating into the breakaways' lead.
None of the chasing trio was a yellow jersey contender, unlike John Tanner who got away from the bunch at the 40-mile mark.
Tanner joined forces with Holden, Stephens and Randle at 48 miles while, some three minutes up the road, the breakaway was starting to feel the pain. McGarrity was first to crack, leaving Cassidy and Maher to tackle the final prime of the day, Blairquahan (62 miles), with their lead reduced to two minutes.
Meanwhile the bunch hadn't given up hope and were only 30 seconds behind Randle's group as it closed rapidly on the Irishmen, who finally succumbed to the four chasers with two miles to go.
Randle immediately went on the attack. He was aiming for a solo win but also needed to stay clear of the bunch that was closing fast, with Curran doing most of the driving.
It's a long, long finishing straight at Girvan, but Randle - a former overall winner - held out to cross the line 11 seconds clear of Tanner, Holden and Stephens.
Then came the rampaging bunch, led home by Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo), outsprinting Mark Walsham (Tritech-Peugeot) and his eternal shadow Glenn Holmes (Ambrosia), who retained his grip on the points jersey.
Victory was some consolation for Randle who had lost more than seven minutes after puncturing on stage one. Navan's Maher was rewarded for his efforts by taking the overall lead in the climbers' competition.
But the biggest gain of the day was made by Tanner, who collected 10 seconds' time bonus to climb four places up the overall table to a position where he was breathing down Curran's neck.
1. Wayne Randle (Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar) 3-08-16
2. J. Tanner (Tritech-Peugeot) at 11sec
3. R. Holden (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech) st
4. M. Stephens (N Wirral Velo) at l4sec
5. C. Newton (N Wirral Velo) at 24sec
6. M. Walsham (Tritech-Peugeot)
7. G. Holmes (Ambrosia)
8. S. Dangerfield (W Mids Centre ot Exc)
9. R. Riddle (Scotland)
10. R. Evans (W Mids Centre of Exc) all st.
Overall.- Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT) 6-44-51; 2, Tanner at 6sec; 3, Walsham at l3sec; 4, Holmes at 24sec; 5, C. Lillywhite (Karrimor-PCA) at 26sec; 6, Riddle at 29 sec; 7, M. Lovatt (Optimum Pertormance) at 29sec; eq. 8, M. McKay (RT Italia), A. Naylor (RT Italia) at 53sec; 10, R. Holden (Ambrosia) at 1-05.
BARELY recognisable under a coating of road grime and mud, Rob Holden (Ambrosia Desserts) sprinted to victory ahead of breakaway partner Peter Longbottom (North Wirral Velo) to give the Ambrosia squad its second stage success of the race.
Thundering along behind came the main group, led across the line by Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo). Safely in the group was yellow jersey Paul Curran (Optimum Performance) alongside his chief rivals for overall victory, John Tanner and Mark Walsham, both riding for the Tritech-Peugeot squad.
Curran had reason to be grateful for breakaways Holden and Longbottom. He had started the day with only six seconds' lead over Tanner and 13 over Walsham. With time bonuses of 15, 10 and five seconds for the first three on the stage, he knew the overall result could have been decided by the final sprint.
But after the field had stuck together in a tense battle through the hills and forests inland from Girvan, Holden and Longbottom broke clear on the final climb, The Screws, and stayed away for the last nine miles to snaffle the main time bonuses.
'It was very tactical out there, we tried to smother everything,' said Curran after marking Tanner throughout and keeping a wary eye on attacks from Walsham.
Curran had a couple of outstanding workhorses in Wayne Randle and Mark Lovatt, while Tanner had the experience of Shane Sutton and Neil Hoban to aid his cause.
In 1994 snow affected the final stage; this year torrential rain fell throughout the day. But the rain also brought warmer air and the riders responded with high-speed action that saw the stage finish on its 25 mph schedule despite the smallness of the field.
The four hill primes saw Ray Eden (Optimum Performance) re-enter the battle for the mountain leader's jersey he lost to Stephen Maher (Navan-Avonmore) the previous day. The 2.7-mile climb of Tairlaw Hill saw the end of Maher's reign. He tried to match Eden early on, but blew up and slipped out of the back of the bunch as Eden went over the summit with a clear lead.
Maher, weary from his race-long break on stage three, eventually climbed into the sag wagon, while Eden clinched the prize by going over the Glenalla prime in second spot behind Rod Ellingworth.
It was a considerable achievement for Eden: the bulky Liverpudlian must be the heaviest KoM in the race's history.
Meanwhile Glenn Holmes was wrapping up the sprints award with wins at Barrhill (12 miles) and Straiton (44 miles).
The short, steep climb of the Screws was the sting in the tail. Tanner led over the summit with Holden fourth in line. As they started their descent to Girvan the rain eased at last and Ailsa Craig, invisible at the stage start, could be seen jutting out of the Irish Sea.
With the breakaways' lead restricted to around 20 seconds, the vigilant Curran was happy to let them take the stage honours while he clinched the main prize.
1. Rob Holden (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech) 71m in 2-48-28
2. P. Longbottom (N Wirral Velo) at 3sec
3. C. Newton (N Wirral Velo) at 16sec
4. A. Naylor (RT Italia)
5. G. Holmes (Ambrosia)
6. J. Tanner (Tritech)
7. R. Riddle (Scotland)
8. P. Curran (Optimum Performance)
9. S. Dangerfield (W Mids Centre of Exc)
10. W. Randle (Optimum Performance) all st.
1. Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar)
2. Tanner at 6sec
3. Walsham at 13sec
4. Holmes at 24sec
5. Riddle at 29sec
6. Lovatt st
7. Holden at 34sec
8. Naylor at 53sec
9. Ellingworth at 1-13
10. Stephens st
11. Newton at 1-18
12. Dangertield at 1-23
13. R. Eden (Optimum Performance)
14. T. Hall (Ambrosia) both st
15. S. Lillistone ( N Wirral Velo) at 1-28
16. G. Thomas (W Mids Centre of Exc) at 2-35
17. M. McKay at 4-22
18. Lillywhite at 7-15
19. Hoban st
20. Randle at 7-18
21, Longbottom at 7-34; 22, S. Sutton (Tritech-Peugeot) at 8-16; 23, K. Mailer (Scotland) at 13-21; 24, K. Dawson (Optimum Performance) at 14-56; 25, R. Evans at 26-39; 26, G. Speight (Optimum Performance) at 29-14; 27, S. Maher (Avonmore-Navan) at 29-55; 28, G. Longland (PCA) at 36-20; 29, N. Giles (PCA) at 39-31; 30, A. Waft (Composite B) at 44-46; 31, N. Brown (Scotland) at 51-08; 32, G. Adamson (RT Italia) at 1-00-29; 33, J. Graham (Comp B) at 1-10-15; 34, J. Nolan (Avonmore-Navan) at 1-15-47; 35, M. Kiley (Avonmore-Navan) at 1-35-26.
Carrick Gazelle KoM.- Ray Eden (Optimum Performance RT-Power Bar).
Enterprise Ayrshire Points.- Glenn Holmes (Ambrosia/Dyna-Tech).