Monday, May 27, 2024

Paul Curran – English ‘Legend’ of the 80’s and 90’s Track and Road


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Paul Curran
Paul, in GB colours at the 1986 Milk Race.

If you were on the UK race scene in the late 70’s through to the mid-90’s then you’ll be familiar with the name ‘Paul Curran.’

The man could do the lot – he was British Champion in the team pursuit, madison, points, motorpaced, pro criterium, amateur road race, team time trial and hill climb.

He won every big race on the UK calendar from Girvan to the Isle of Man to Essex via The Peak and Cotswolds.

And that’s before we mention the Commonwealth Games Road Race and Team Time Trial the Tour of Normandie and Circuit des Mines.

High times we had a word …

You were one versatile man on a bicycle, Paul!

“Yeah, I did a lot on the track – and well, track races are pretty much all the same, aren’t they?

“I didn’t switch to road until 1985 but I had all that track experience behind me.”

Being Scottish I have to ask you about Girvan; you won it three times…

“The race was always good to me; it was at Easter and because I was full time on the bike I was pretty fit for it.

“You had to be ready for anything in that race; from baking sunshine to getting snowed off the bike – it was always three hard days of racing.”

Paul Curran
In the leader’s jersey at the 1984 Girvan.
Paul Curran
World Amateur Road Race, 1985.

You won The Archer, The Manx, The Peak, Essex, The Cotswolds – all great races but all gone…

“Yeah, it’s sad, disgusting in fact.

“I think that the National Federation has to take some responsibility for letting them fizzle away – those were all great races.”

Paul Curran
Paul was second at the 1985 Circuit des Mines to future pro Pascal Lance.

You won the Circuit des Mines and Tour de Normandie; did you get much interest from the pro teams after those wins?

“I had a few nibbles and actually went down and spent some time in Portugal with a team but didn’t fancy that.

“I had quite a few offers from amateur teams over there but back in the UK I always had the carrot of the Commie Games or Olympics coming along…”

Paul Curran
All smiles at the 1987 Tour of the Peak.

You were a Manchester Wheelers man; some say that The Wheelers helped kill pro cycling here because they made it too easy for the best guys to stay amateur with the financial assistance they gave?

“It depends, they were different times, remember… and as an amateur on the international scene you were up against the Eastern Bloc riders – that was hard racing.

“Remember too, that a lot of British ‘pros’ had jobs and I didn’t initially fancy the ‘crit heavy’ UK race calendar.”

Why turn pro when you did?

“I was getting on for 27 years-old and had ridden the Olympic Road race – but that came to nothing so I just wanted to try something different.

“I turned pro and had a decent year but then the team folded and the British pro scene began to collapse – just my luck!”

What weren’t you good at?

“Lots of things!

“For example, even though I won the hill climb, I hated it and only rode it because Jack Fletcher, the man behind Manchester Wheelers, asked me to but I really didn’t enjoy it.

“That was the good thing about being amateur; I could pick and choose what I rode – and I was never keen on time trial…”

Paul Curran
Paul turned pro for the Percy Bilton team in 1989, and rode the Kellogg’s Tour that year.

You won your Madison titles with Hugh Cameron – he was a big lad compared to you…

“I won three madison titles with Big Hughie and one with Stu Morris – it worked well with Hughie, he’d throw me in like a cricket ball with 200 to go to the sprint.

“We were good with our changes and a change from him set you up nicely for the sprint – like I said; I came off his sling like a cricket ball!”

Paul Curran
Top spot with Hugh at the 1983 British Madison Championships.

How did you get into motorpacing?

“When I went to the British Track Championships at Leicester as a junior I saw the motorpaced for the first time and thought; “that looks pretty nifty, I’d like to try that some time.”

“It just looked cool and different so when I turned 30 and had been riding the same races every year I thought I’d give it a go.

“There were a few people over at Leicester helped me – Paul Gerrard was one. I started racing behind the big motors and had a few wins.

“I rode the last ever motorpaced Worlds down in Sicily but it was really dangerous; they’d polished the concrete to make it fast but the big motorbikes were just sliding around on the surface.

“The thing is that 250 meter indoor tracks don’t really suit the discipline but I did get an invite to the Dortmund Six Day and rode there in a 20 K event every night at 8:00 pm.

“The atmosphere was fantastic, you were ripping round this 200 metre track behind these 1,000 cc museum piece motorbikes from the 1930’s – it was the most fun I ever had!”

Paul Curran
Paul loved riding behind the huge motors.

Pro Criterium Champion – against all those ‘crit kings?’

“The race was down at Cardiff and the circuit was pretty safe and all right hand turns.

“At the team meet John Herety our manager said that I was to go late but sit up immediately if anyone stayed with me.

“I managed to get away on my own and won it – it was nice to be champion but I didn’t really enjoy the crit scene.”

Which was your favourite discipline?

“The track, the road was OK but it could be tedious – at a track meet you could always look forward to the next event if you messed one up.

“They’ve just opened a new track at Middlesbrough, 250 metre tarmac and I’ve started riding it again – it’s good fun.”

Paul Curran
National Criterium Champion, ahead of Mark Walsham and Chris Lilywhite.

You had to quit due to having broken your back?

“I had three hiccups in my career; in ’88 four or five weeks before the Olympics a car pulled out in front of me and I ended up with 65 stitches.

“Then in ’92 I contracted pneumonia.

“But the big one was in ’96 when I ended up with a broken back, a woman on a motor bike collided with me during the Tour of the Pennines.

“I never came back from that one; I had some nasty fractures and damage.

“I didn’t used to crash much but like one of my friends said; ‘you maybe don’t have the quantity of crashes but you make up for it with the quality!'”

Which performance gives you most satisfaction?

“It’s not a win – I was third in the Tour du Hainaut Occidental in 1987; the race was a few weeks before the Worlds and the East Germans were riding.

“Mario Kummer won, Olaf Ludwig was second but Uwe Ampler, Falk Boden and Uwe Raab were all riding too; I was pleased with third on GC in that company – and it was satisfying too that they showed respect for us …”

Paul Curran
On the podium at the 1987 Hainaut Tour for 3rd overall.

‘With hindsight’?

“I wish I hadn’t started my last race!

“Perhaps if I’d started on the road earlier – I rode the Tour of Britain in 1989 and was going OK.

“The 7-Eleven team were asking about me but when they found out I was 28 years-old…”

Paul Curran
Winning the 1988 Manx International from Ben Luckwell.

Do you still follow the sport?

“Yes, but just for entertainment. I like Chris Froome – he seems a cannae lad.

“And in the long run I think maybe Armstrong was good for the sport because he brought all those doping problems to a head and enabled a fresh start.”

I hear you’re a wheel building demon?

“I have my own bike shop and still build a lot of wheels – I build them for others too, like Planet X.

“It stems from having to true my own wheels back when I was a young rider I was forever truing wheels back then.

“I can remember breaking a spoke in a front 28 spoker in the Isle of Man Mountain Time Trial – going down that mountain at 50 mph with 27 spokes and the wheel all over the place!

“I think the main quality you require to build a decent wheel is patience; rims are much better now but I don’t think the quality of spokes has improved much at all.

“Carbon has it’s place; but not on a coffee run at 16 mph – you don’t really need to be ‘aero’ for that!”

With thanks to Paul for his time – we think that much over-worked word, ‘legend’ can safely be used in his case.

Check out Paul’s site for more details and photos.