Cycling: Doubts remain over Milk Race: Lillywhite leads grateful Banana men home to prize-money

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CHRIS LILLYWHITE may be remembered as the last man to win a Milk Race, a corner in sporting history that he would prefer to forego.

'It would be devastating for British cycling if it finished. I do not want to be the last,' he said as he prepared for the winner's ceremony in the streets of Manchester.

In the two weeks of the race, 1,168 miles have passed under his wheels, which turned in a record speed of 26.97mph for the distance.

There have been 45,000 miles of Milk Racing since the first in 1958, and the thought of losing a sponsor- cum-race organisation with the stamina of the Milk Marketing Board is sad.

'The British Cycling Federation views the race as having a solid future,' Ian Emmerson, the Federation's president said yesterday, but would add nothing more.

If the Board, due for dismantling under the European Community policy on marketing monopolies, does step down, it can do so with a 'follow that' challenge to would-be backers.

Millions have been spent to raise the Tour of Britain, the actual race title when stripped of sponsors, to a major international sporting event, and for that, British and international cycling will be forever grateful.

With its prize fund approaching pounds 80,000 it is the biggest pay-day for the likes of Lillywhite and his Banana racers.

He won pounds 10,000 for his victory, plus other cash for placings, and his team- mate, Brian Smith, took the Combine award worth pounds 200, was third in the Sprints category ( pounds 250), fourth in the King of the Mountains standings ( pounds 150), and fourth place overall yielded pounds 500. Ben Luckwell and Mark Walsham, 'guesting' just for the Milk Race, each picked up pounds 1,000 for winning stages.

Such hauls are only once-a-year even for a Banana man. Keith Lambert has steered his men to three individual and two team triumphs in the last four years. Saturday was his 46th birthday - a time to celebrate, but later perhaps to mourn if the Milk Race goes.

British professionals have often used the chance of a place in the Milk Race to win over a potential sponsor. The pro scene is low on team backers, because of the recession, and to lose negotiating power further hampers the struggle to maintain their side of the sport. British cycling waits for the decision.

Steven Wolhuter, the South African professional, has been told to quit racing after his collapse during the Milk Race. He has been in a Shrewsbury hospital since complaining of dizziness six days ago. Test have shown an irregular heartbeat and the possibility that he may have suffered a slight heart attack.