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Lillywhite defies the odds

Chris Lillywhite kept his nerve to win the Thwaites Grand Prix on Monday after four days and five stages of non-stop race action.

Stage two: Preston-Rawtenstall, 77 miles

Irresistible force

CHRIS Newton lived up to his billing as one of the pre-race favourites with a finely-judged win in Rawtenstall after a roller-coaster ride through the Ribble Valley and the Bowland fells.

You knew it was going to be a hard day when the race radio reported that there were riders going off the back after six miles - three of which were flat or down-hill. For those riders hoping for a gentle introduction to the first road stage, disillusion came quickly. Twenty-eight miles were covered in the first hour and this on roads that were decidedly lumpy.

'I wasn't out of the 12 or 13 sprocket for the first hour,' admitted Mark McKay, the Ribble pro who pulled on the king of the mountains jersey at the stage finish.

Not that things calmed down much for the other two hours either. After the usual skirmishes, three riders went clear at 18 miles and the race was well and truly on.

Paul Curran (Optimum Performance RT), Rod Ellingworth (Ambrosia Desserts) and Matt Postle (Team Energy) were the trio who got a gap. Unfortunately for one of the pre-race favourites - Rob Holden - his team-mate Ellingworth was forging off the front as Holden was yo-yoing off the back with mechanical trouble. It was a bad start to a day which got worse and worse for the Ambrosia pro. Holden was to end the day in 99th spot overall, over 30 minutes down on Newton.

However, in front, the trio had a lead of 30 seconds as they headed for Gisbum on narrow roads with grippy drags that made any kind of organised chase well-nigh impossible. Besides which, with three riders from three of the best teams in the race off the front, who was going to get down to work?

Given the high speed and the nature of the terrain, a chase group formed as the bunch split at the seams and in it were most of the riders you would expect to see:

Newton and his North Wirral team mate Matt Stephens, Wayne Randle of Optimum Performance, Karrimor pro Chris Lillywhite, last year's winner John Tanner of Tritech, Rocky Mountain pro Chris Young, John Charlesworth of CC Giro, Shane Sutton of Peugeot, Leek CC's Gary Thomas, Irish climber Steven Maher and McKay.

This group made contact just before the toughest climb of the day reared up out of Earby. The first-cat rated Bleara Moor was destined to see Sutton dropped and Charlesworth in difficulty, although the CC Giro rider made it back just as the leaders went over the top, which was more than Sutton managed.

The steep climb sorted out the bunch too and, with the race well and truly atomised, 12 men detached themselves and tried to chase. Although on the climb of Clarion House the chasers seemed to be closing in, the steepness of the prime hills made the gap deceptive. The lead hovered at around one minute, but with Stephens, Lillywhite and Postle working hard, the chasers were condemned to lose ground as the day progressed, although they didn't take it lying down.

As far as the initial selection went, that was that. Maher was dropped with cramp, Thomas endured advanced fatigue but somehow - miraculously some might say - managed to close gaps and chase people down with apparent ease, while McKay and Postle had a bit of a fight for mountains points.

In the chase group, which included Turnstall Wheeler Steve Farrell, Mark Lovatt from Optimum Performance, Pete Longbottom of North Wirral Velo, RT Italia's Andy Naylor, David Peelo and Paul McQuaid of Ireland, Sutton, New Brighton's David Hitchen and David Rand of Letchworth Velo, there was never a concerted effort although the terrain never lent itself to a steady and organised chase.

So, after Bleara Moor and the second climb of the day - Clarion House - the stage was as good as over and for many the overall race was too. The gaps between the groups got wider as the race headed towards two laps of a 13-mile circuit around Rawtenstall. The first time through the sun-drenched finish the leaders had 1-50 to the dozen chasers and more than seven minutes to the biggest of several groups on the road. The final couple of hill-primes saw Postle, who had been on the attack from mile 18, take full king of the mountains points and put certain of the weaker riders in difficulty, although all managed to get back on. The pressure was on though as Tanner and Curran attacked on the last climb of the day. This came to nothing though and, as Postle claimed the final prime at Clow Bridge with a little more than four miles to go, he put his head down on the descent and got a gap.

On the front, Stephens was doing a lot and described Postle's move. 'Well, he sort of dangled, if you can call doing 35mph a dangle. At one point he seemed to be about a bike length in front of us, but we just couldn't get him and he went clear again.'

Just after Lillywhite and McKay had taken a spell in the pursuit of Postle, Newton jumped clear with Randle on his wheel and caught the unlucky Welshman with about a kilometre to go. 'I was gutted,' said Postle, 'when they caught me there was no way I was going to win.' Well spotted Matt. In the dash for the line Newton somehow led out and held on to win using all means available to him, including traffic cones, but there was nothing illegal going on and he took the stage and a 20-second time bonus ahead of Randle and Postle.

1. Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo-Kodak Prints) 77 miles in 2-59-36
2. Randle
3. Postle both same time
4. C. Lillywhite (Karrimor) at 7sec
5. G. Thomas (Leek CC)
6. P. Curran (Optimum Performance RT)
7. J. Tanner (Tritech)
8. M. Stephens (North Wirral Velo)
9. M. Mckay (Ribble) all same time
10. J. Charlesworth (CC Giro) at 1-49

Overall.- Newton (North Wirral Velo) 3-02-19; 2, Randle at 16sec; 3, Postle at 2lsec; 4, Thomas at 29sec;
5, Curran at 33sec; 6, Tanner at 34sec; 7, Lillywhite at same time; 8, Stephens at 38sec; 9, McKay at 39sec;
10, J. Charlesworth at 2-22.

Stage Three: Morecambe-Accrington, 64 miles

Lillywhite's sponsor pleaser

CHRIS Lillywhite chose his moment to make a move and it turned out to be the right one. He won the stage and took the yellow jersey from overnight leader Newton.

There were no fewer than nine riders at 39 seconds from the yellow jersey of Chris Newton and, with 64 hilly miles and four hill primes on the way, defending a lead of any kind was always going to be a tall order. Tall, but not impossible - all that Newton and his team-mates had to do was to watch eight other riders.

It would have been hard enough on flat terrain, but on narrow, undulating roads and a field that seemed intent on self-destruction as soon as the neutralised section was over, it was clearly only a matter of time before one attack too many was launched.

The ingredients for a spirited stage were all there. Riders with a lot to gain, several others with nothing to lose and roads which never seemed to be flat. Wayne Randle of Optimum Performance was predicting 'pain and suffering' before the start and, sure enough, it wasn't long in coming. Irishman Paul McQuaid, in fine climbing form, was off the front as soon as the race turned right up the savagely steep Jubilee Tower, a first category climb that relegated half the field to oblivion after only 20 miles. Matt Stephens of North Wirral Velo looked, momentarily, as though he was going to accompany the smooth-pedalling Dubliner before realising that he was of no danger to Newton and instead John Tanner went with McQuaid. The two-mile climb had the effect of forcing those who were climbing well to show their hands as those who weren't struggled to get back on. In the North Wirral camp, things looked to be reasonably under control, although they lost Paul Jennings and, on the next climb, the Trough of Bowland, Simon Lillistone was tailed off. By the Trough though, the lead group had been whittled down to around 30 riders when the next crucial move went.

Steven 'Stretch' Maher, another talented Irish climber, went on the attack, with Tim Hall of Ambrosia tucked in his slipstream (somehow, inexplicably, failing to understand the Irishman's invitation to share the pacemaking) while Jeremy Hunt of CC Giro stormed up to the duo with Steve Farrell, clearly coming back to form. Going over the top, Maher took the prime and McQuaid latched on, although sadly for McQuaid he misjudged a sharp left-hander and went over the edge into the abyss. As it turned out McQuaid was lucky, since, as he was crawling back up, Jason Nind of the Apollo RT went flying over the Irishman's head, land-ing heavily and needing hospital treatment for five broken ribs and a head injury. The race continued, however, and with Hunt, Farrell, Maher and Hall all keen to get on with the racing, they looked to be building a serious lead.

Heading towards the shorter but steeper Marl Hill, Longbottom and Stephens had flogged themselves to the point of needing to 'park up' leaving Newton to do a bit of work for himself. Newton had just come off the front, with the four-man break as good as over when Lillywhite decided to go for it with Gary Thomas on his wheel.

It was at this moment that the stage took on its definitive shape. Maher, an escapee from the four-man break, stayed clear and went with Thomas and Lillywbite, taking the second of three primes he would win, while behind, Newton looked for some assistance from other well-placed riders. Unfortunately Matt Postle, who started the day in third spot, had punctured and, in spite of touching 60mph on one descent, never got back to the head of the race. Second-placed Randle and fifth placed Curran were content to bide their time while the trio in front were going flat-out towards Accrington.

En route, Maher took the penultimate prime of the day on the Nick O'Pendle where Newton attacked from the bunch in an effort to claw back the two min-utes that the three leaders had built. It was a bold, though ultimately futile move and if Newton was to lose the yellow jersey then no-one could accuse him of going out with a whimper. John Tanner went with Newton who took back 30 seconds by the top of the climb, but was unable to get any closer as the race plunged off the Nick and into Great Harwood.

On the final prime at Cliffe, Maher cracked while Lillywhite and Thomas tried to snap their cranks. Behind, Longbottom and Stephens were operational in the 31-man lead group again and the gap came down a little, although it was too little to save Newton. In the downhill finish, Lillywhite had the beating of Thomas in his Karrimor sponsor's home town while Paul Curran rubbed salt in the North Wirral wounds by taking a flyer and stealing third place, a few extra seconds and a time bonus in an effort to reclaim first place in the team race. The fact that Curran's final flat-out kilo only drew them level on time overall with North Wirral Velo was probably no consolation for losing the overall.

1. Chris Lillywhite (Karrimor) 64 miles in 2-32-10
2. Thomas at same time
3. Curran at 1-31
4. B. Wilson (CS Parbeck) at 1-34
5. J. Host (CC Giro) at 1-37
6. M. Walsham (Tritech)
7. T. Hall (Ambrosia)
8. D. Hitches (New Brighton CC)
9. K. Dawson (Optimum Performance RT)
10. Randle
11. Naylor (RT Italia)
12. R. Ellingworth (Ambrosia)
13. Pitchford (Yorks & Humberside)
14. Hornby (Yorks & Humberside)
15. Stephens
16. R. Fuller (Wales)
17. Newton
18. N. Farmer (CC Lancashire)
19. Longbottom (North Wirral Velo)
20. D. Axford (Team Energy) all same time

Overall after stage 3.- Chris Lillywhite (Karrimor) 5-34-46; 2, Thomas at 2sec; 3, Newton at 1-20; 4, Randle at 1-36; 5, Curran at 1-42; 6, Tanner at 1-54; 7, Stephens at 1-58; 8, McKay at 1-59; 9, Young at 4-32; 10, Longbottom at 4-32.

Final overall

1. Chris Lillywhite (Karrimor--Mongoose) 10-17-53
2. Thomas at 2sec
3. Newton at 1-11
4. Randle at 1-36
5. Curran at 1-42
6. Tanner at 1-54
7. Stephens at 1-56
8. McKay at 1-59
9. Naylor (RT Italia) at 2-35
10. M. Lovatt (Optimum Performance) at same time
11. Wilson (CS Purbeck) at 3-21
12. Dawson (Optimum Performance) at 3-23
13. Young (Rocky Mountain) at 3-43
14. Hitchen (New Brighton) at 4-12
15. P. Longbottom (North Wirral) at 4-32
16. Peelo (Ireland) at 4-40
17. R. Fuller (Wales) at 5-35
18. C. Golightly (Lancs Division) at 5-37
19. D. Williams (RT Italia) at 5-36
20. M. Postle (Team Energy) at 6-40

King of the Lancashire hills.- Matt Postle (Team Energy-Duracell)
Science in Sport points.- Chris Newton (North Wirral Velo-Kodak)
Co-op hot spots.- Jeremy Hunt (CC Giro-Apex)