TOUR OF THE PEAK
National road race champion Paul Curran eclipsed everyone to score an outstanding victory in the 95-mile Lowther-Supergas Tour of the Peak, promoted by South Manchester RCC at Buxton on Sunday.
This was his seventh Star Trophy win of the season, over some of the toughest climbs in the Peak, including the 1-in-5 Winnats Pass with 10 miles to go.
He increased his already substantial lead in the Star Trophy which he has won for the third consecutive year. Without doubt, Curran is a professional in all but official status, as anyone of the 53-man field left gasping in his wake on Sunday will testify because not one of them could follow when the Manchester Wheelers-Trumanns rider chose to start racing with about 30 miles to go.
Not that there were no fireworks before Curran lit the blue touch-paper. Impressive though the earlier display was, the other attacks were damp squibs by comparison. Curran crossed the line 1-58 ahead of Dave Spencer (Paragon RT). Third at 2-40 was Tim Hall (Wembley RC).
The time gaps stretched even wider further down the list, for this was a tough race full of zest from the start.
Bright sunshine and strong winds greeted the field as they left Buxton, the starting point for this grand tour of the magnificent Peak District in Derbyshire.
With a tailwind to start, the first break was on before some had even tightened their toe-straps. As the flag dropped, Steve Farrell (GS Strada) jumped away. The winner 'of the 1987 Wincanton Wheels Internatonal was joined by Wayne Randle, winner of the 1986 edition of that April classic. They, and others who joined them in their adventure on two laps of a 40-odd-mile circuit, found out they were playing only bit parts in the story as the hero waited in the wings.
Of them all, only Randle salvaged something. The Chesterfield Coureurs-Ness international, like Curran, a member of the world road race team, won the King of the Mountains title, beating Farrell and Roger Dunne (Harp RC) by seven points. Dunne was equal second after a brave solo at the front which ended when Curran came sweeping up at last eventually to leave Dunne with 16 miles to go.
Dunne's ambitious attack showed a positive attitude to the Curran problem: to go out front alone and force Curran to chase a bit longer, rather than wait around at the master's pleasure as many of the others appeared to do.
For after the Farrell-Randle attack at the start, which drew many others after them as they climbed Chunal Head (10 miles) followed by the 1,600-foot Snake Pass seven miles later, Dunne's attempt as they began the second circuit was one of the highlights of the race, a man on a hiding to nowhere if he failed, and what more glorious failure. To see Dunne grit his teeth in defiance made Curran's effort - when it came - all the greater.
So did all the doomed manoeuvres before, each one an appetiser for the encore when Curran made up a dangerous deficit in double-quick time as he began, as he put it - "to race". First time up the four-mile long Snake Pass, Randall took the prime by shooting away from Farrell, with Karl Smith (Paragon RT) third. The next group was at 1-5, led by Paragon RT's Paul Brown. The Paragon always had someone in the moves. The bunch split on the ascent and predictably reformed on the 10-mile descent to Lady Bower reservoir, a dazzling blue in the distance.
At the bottom of the descent, the route made a detour to avoid Bradwell, closed because of road works, which added five miles to the course.
Constant action from the bunch saw more men fly away in pursuit of Randle's trio and at 28 miles five men were homing in, chased by another 11. The activity had interested Curran who came winging across the gap from the bunch to close on the 11 just in time to catch the five. This was part of Curran's policy to keep tabs on any early leaders, but he didn't want to become too involved yet for although this 17-man possee could have closed on Randle's lot, they did not.
At Hathersage, the bunch were coming up fast on Curran's group and as they regrouped, two more men set off and they reached the front. It was at Grindleford (35 miles) that Dunne and Richard Evans (Warwickshire RC) rode into the limelight as the main field drifted 1-10 in arrears.
Then news came of two more would-be champions on their way up, as Norman Hughes (Coldra RC) and Giles Pidcock (Bradford Wheelers) tore over the undulating roads into a deceptively hard head-wind. With their arrival at the head of affairs, the race had opened up again.
Up the two-mile long drag of Middleton Dales, Randle sprinted away to take his third consecutive prime, trailed by Pidcock and Farrell, then Evans and a small gap to the rest of this seven-man leading group.
Five chasers bridged the summit 44 seconds later, led by David Ferguson (North Lancs RC) and then came the bunch at 1-5 and from several placings back Curran put on a nice side-show. Seeing a helper waiting with a bottle at the side of the road, he eased deceptively quickly past seven or eight men taking no more than 50 yards to do so, took the drink from the outstretched hand and sat back to take a refreshing swig at the front of the hard-pressed line: the man clearly deserved better travelling companions.
Yet some of them had the guts to keep on trying to get clear of him, among them former pro Phil Galloway (Polytechnic CC) with Brown and Lee Travis (Stone Wheelers). These three chased the five who were chasing the leading seven. Then Pidcock punctured at 46 miles and the leaders were down to six. Then five as Karl Smith was dropped.
It was all-change all the time now as the race headed for the start of the second and last big circuit which had the extra bonus of the Winnats. Lucky for Karl Smith who grabbed the lifeline from the closing chasing groups to arrive back at the front to make it 12 men with 50 miles gone at Dove Holes.
A bit further on Dunne had had enough of the indecision which descended on this group and so up the climb of Chinley Head he rode away taking full advantage of the following wind. At Chinley Head pub he had 15 seconds on Randle's men and on the descent he extended this to 47 seconds at 57 miles, crouching low and not pedalling some of the time, the gusts buffeting him as he dropped at close on 50mph.
A few miles on he crossed the summit of Chunal Head with a lead of 1-14 on Randle who ruled his followers to take second place and so maintain his now unassailable lead in the mountains competition.
With just under 40 miles to go, Curran found himself in a potentially dangerous situation, as he crossed the summit at Chunal in 15th position, 2-32 behind Dunne. It was only dangerous if anyone else in the race was gifted with the same musketeer qualities of the doomed Dunne. Apparently no one was.
Curran finally attacked on the second ascent of the Snake. After a furious descent into Glossop, the field hit the long drag and he bid them goobye. In only four miles Curran sliced through the 14 riders spreadeagled between him and Dunne. No-one could match his ascent up above the tree-line and at the Snake summit, some 10 miles after Chunal, he had cut Dunne's lead from 2-32 to 39 seconds. Three-quarters down the other side, Dunne heard the swish of tubs on tarmac, and looked up as the British champion arrived. The star act was on stage. Ten others were in pursuit as the Curran-Dunne duo began their brief alliance after 70 miles of racing.
Besides the Ladybower reservoir Curran stepped up the workload and nine miles later Dunne blew at the village of Hope. Curran had the lead at last.
Through the narrow streets of Castleton, Curran sped in that low, crouched position of his.
He rattled over the cattlegrid at the foot of Winnats Pass and rode straight. as an arrow up the centre of the narrow road.
Methodical, his legs digging at each pedal stroke in perfect harmony, his eyes glued to the horizon, Curran ascended into the great crowd which cheered him and parted before him at the summit.
Next up was Spencer. From lying 33 seconds behind four miles earlier, he was now 1-26 behind the champion. He, too, rode wicked Winnats well, tailed by Hall. At 1-41. Norman Dunne (Ferryhill Wheelers) amazed by climbing sitting down, concentrating, his eyes narrowed, mouth sucking in air. Then came Richard Evans, followed by the courageous Dunne at 3-50.
Now the riders zig-zagged because it was all many could do to maintain little more than walking pace. Harry Lodge (Chiltern RC) led Longbottom and what was left of the bunch at 4-46. Over the summit the going was far from easy, for the headwind was stronger. Curran increased his lead over Spencer, Hall and Norman Dunne who maintained their positions over Winnats to finish in that order.
Curran's benign smile as he crossed the finish line belied the super-human performance that we have come to expect of him. He must be without doubt the strongest British international for years.
Asked if he had had a plan of attack, Curran replied. "I had a word with Pete Longbottom. I decided not to go with an early break because he always reckons it comes back on this course.
"So I just tried to keep tapping along, you know, to keep the gap within distance and I started racing on the second lap."
Did not the 2-32 deficit alarm him? "I suppose it was quite a big gap, but there was nothing I could do. The bunch wasn't really interested in bringing it down"
Asked if he would wait until after the 1988 Olympics before going pro, he replied: "I am not sure. I don't know whether it is worth waiting for one race, as proved by last week's effort," he added with a wry smile. He was referring, of course, to the World's. More he would not say on the vexed question over his future, whether it be amateur or professional.
1. PAUL CURRAN (Manchester Wh-Trumanns) 95m in 4-0-15
2. D. Spencer (Paragon PT) at 1-58
3. T. Hall (Wembley PC) at 2-40
4. N. Dunn (Ferryhill Wh) at 3-27
5. J. Charlesworth (S. Yorks PC) at 4-41
6. S. Farrell (GS Strada) at 5-3
7. P. Rogers )VC St Raphael) at 5-21
8. P. Longbottom (Manchester Wh) at 5-25
9. P. Sheard (Bradford Wh)
10. C. Young (Paragon RT)
11. R. Dunne (Harp PC)
12. R. Evans (Warwickshire PC) all st
13. H. Lodge (Chiltern PC) at 6-4
14. L. Travis (Stone Wh) 6-22
15. W. Randle (Chesterfield Cour) at 8-3
16. S. Cook (VC Etoile) at 9-27
17. R. Fenton (VC d'or) st
18. R. Chamberlain (Sapphire PC) at 11-46
19. R. Hobbs (Bynes CC) at 12-14
20. A. Guy (Sapphire PC) at 12-53.
Mountains. - Wayne Randle (Chesterfield Coureur-Ness) l8pt; eq 2, Farrell, R. Dunne 11; 3, Curran, 10.
REPORT KEITH BINGHAM. PICTURES PHIL O'CONNOR