He crossed the Manchester finish line yesterday the overall winner by 20 seconds after a tingling climax to 1,168 miles of rapid racing which started two weeks ago in Tunbridge Wells.
His average speed of 26.97mph beat the 1986 best of Joey McLoughlin by seven-tenths of a mile per hour, and McLoughlin raced 100 miles fewer for his victory. It was a dream come true for Lillywhite, but the nightmare for British cycling is the hovering doubt about 1994.
'I hope it continues next year,' Lillywhite said. 'It would be devastating for us to lose it. If it is not here next year the amateur side of British cycling will go downhill.'
A decision is due from the sponsors, the Milk Marketing Board, later this month, but the board itself is due for disbanding next April under EC rules which forbid marketing monopolies.
All the fears for the future were in the background yesterday as the final 50 miles were fought out. Alex Nadobenko, of Kazakhstan, sprinted in for his 12th victory of the year, and his second in three days on the race. He won in Liverpool, and took the final chequered flag, clocking an average of 29.90 mph, close on the 30mph record stage speed of the Dane Christian Andersen, the winner at Milton Keynes last week.
Deep in the chasing pack was the victorious Lillywhite, and his courageous challenger, Ole Simensen, of Norway.
Simensen gouged his right leg in a crash on Friday, and raced yesterday with 10 stitches in the wound. 'There was no pain, and I had everything to race for,' Simensen said.
It was a double celebration in the Banana team camp with their manager Keith Lambert celebrating his 46th birthday. 'It was a great team effort, and our two recruits, Ben Luckwell and Mark Walsham, rode with fantastic commitment, and they each won a stage for their trouble,' Lambert said. He signed them up to bring the team to Milk Race strength.
'With only four and a half riders the lads have done well,' he said, referring to the loss of Keith Reynolds with a broken wrist, and the fact that Shane Sutton had raced for a week with badly bruised ribs.
Lillywhite realised an ambition that he never expected to achieve. 'Keith and Shane gave me the confidence to go for it. I did not really believe that I could win, but Shane told me, 'You have as good a chance as anyone.'
'There were some anxious moments, and over the last two days I have felt the pressure of being leader. The lads told me that I have been a miserable bastard since I first took it at Portsmouth in the first week.
'I was really in a state on Friday because it rained and I was worried in case I had a puncture or fell, but, with hindsight, it was the easiest day of racing.'
If it is to be the last after 36 years, then this race was a grand finale to the sponsorship with intensely fought racing of the standard that comes only from top international competitors: not a sour note to bow out on since the sponsorship has done much to raise the profile of British cycling.
MILK RACE (stage 12, Manchester city-centre, 50 miles): 1 A Nadobenko (Kazakhstan) 1hr 39min 46sec; 2 R Holden (GB, Neilson-Tivoli); 3 D McDonald (Aus); 4 J Sikora (Pol); 5 I Wright (Britannia); 6 P Jonker (Aus) all same time; 7 J Mickiewicz (Pol) +5sec; 8 J Hermes (Hol); 9 E Moskalev (Kazakhstan); 10 B Fink (Slovenia) all same time. Stage team: 1 Kazakhstan 4:59:11, equal 2 Australia and Neilson-Tivoli +7.
Overall: 1 C Lillywhite (GB, Banana) 43hr 19min 38sec; 2 O Simensen (Nor) +20sec; 3 D Kovar (Czech) +25; 4 A Kivilev (Kazakhstan) +30; 5 B Smith (GB, Banana) +36; 6 C Henry (Ire) +41; 7 N Mattan (Bel) +45; 8 N van der Steen (Hol) 48; 9 M Rendell (NZ) +52; 10 M Stephens (GB Amateur) +1min 13sec. Overall team: 1 Norway 129hr 45min 00sec; 2 Denmark +2:23; 3 GB +4:02. Other British placings overall: 16 M McKay (GB Amateur) +2:51; 19 R Holden +3:46; 20 S Bray (Britannia) +3:49; 30 I Wright +7:57; 35 A Doyle (Neilson-Tivoli) +12:36; 38 W Randle (Neilson-Tivoli) +13:59. Other Irish placings overall: 43 I Chivers +20:44; 71 P Collins +50:54; 79 P Callaly +1hr 30min 05sec.
Sprints classification: 1 J Mickiewicz 24 pts; 2 A Nadobenko 15; 3 B Smith 12.
Points classification: 1 M van Steen (Hol) 76 pts; 2 C Lillywhite 72; 3 A Nadobenko 67.
King of the Mountains: 1 M McKay (GB) 92 pts; 2 R Romanik (Pol) 80; 3 A Mizourov (Kazakhstan) 76.
Combined classification: 1 B Smith 21 pts; 2 A Nadobenko 38; 3 M McKay 44.
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