Cycling: Banana men refuse to split up: Lillywhite in the pink as team stand by their man

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The Independent Online
THE Banana team, to use a surfing term in a cycle race, were 'hanging loose' when things started popping on the roads of Suffolk.

The Milk Race leader, Chris Lillywhite, had a puncture, and his team-mate Keith Reynolds gave him his rear wheel. Then Shane Sutton topped it all by having three punctures, and suddenly five Banana men were in limbo attempting to save their leader.

'At one time only Brian Smith was in the race, and the rest of us were out the back, chasing,' Sutton said. 'Every team was throwing plenty at us throughout the race, but we had it under control.'

Their efficiency and strength was only outshone by their coolness. That is why when the race entered Bury St Edmunds the Banana bunch were on the front, 'keeping the pace steady', the unflappable Lillywhite explained.

'The lads had dropped back to help me out, and we just rode steadily to rejoin the main field.'

All the signs in Suffolk pointed to tranquility - 'Caution, ducklings crossing' and 'Beware, young children on ponies' - but it did nothing for the Milk Racers, who averaged 28mph - their fastest in a furious first four days.

The Australian, Brett Dennis, opened a lead of more than one and a half minutes that earned him 'firsts' at the Steeple Bumpstead climb, counting for the King of the Mountains, and two sprints, one of which lifted him to second in the fight for the best sprinter's jersey.

He was reeled in just before the Bananas split. The next time a sprint developed was in the finishing straight with Martin van Steen edging out team-mate Paul Konings.

MILK RACE (Stage 4, Luton to Bury St Edmunds, 85.6 miles): 1 M van Steen (Neth) 3hr 4min 4sec; 2 P Konings (Neth); 3 W Engelbrecht (SA; Southern Sun); 4 H Vogels (Aus); 5 L McKay (Irl); 6 C Rajch (Pol); 7 B Fink (Slov); 8 M Erzen (Slov); 9 C Lillywhite (GB; Banana); 10 G Rice (Aus) all same time. Overall: 1 Lillywhite 15:06:49; 2 M Rendell (NZ) +26sec; 3 K Marcussen (Den) +30sec; 4 B Smith (GB; Banana) +38sec; 5 O Simensen (Nor) +40sec; 6 A Mizourov (Kaz) +43sec; 7 C Henry (Irl) +50sec; 8 M Stephens (GB; amat) +1:01; 9 S Lowe (NZ) +1:07; 10 R Holden (GB; Neilson-Tivoli) +1:11. Other British placings: 13 W Randle (Neilson-Tivoli) +1:22; 14 S Bray (Britannia) +1:24; 16 J Tanner (Neilson-Tivoli) +1:30; 26 B Luckwell (Banana) +2:40; 27 K Reynolds (Banana) +3:02; 29 M Postle (Britannia) +3:33. King of the Mountains: 1 Mizourov 32pts; 2 Rajch 31; 3 C Andersen (Den) 29. Sprints: 1 J Mickiewicz (Pol) 16pts; 2= B Dennis (Aus), Lillywhite, Smith 5. Points: 1 H Vogels 40pts; 2 F Hoej (Den) 33; 3 N van der Steen (Neth) 32. Stage team: 1 Netherlands 9:11:47; 2 Southern Sun +20sec; 3= Australia, Poland +22sec. Overall: 1 Banana 45:05:06; 2 Denmark +9sec; 3 Norway +2:50.

(Maps omitted)