Tributes paid to Severn Bridge Road Race crash cyclist
TRIBUTES have been paid to a talented athlete who died during a cycle race, after he was in a collision with a car.
Junior Heffernan from Devon died yesterday during the Severn Bridge Road Race.
The race was abandoned shortly after the incident on the third of ten laps, with riders returning to race headquarters visibly shaken.
Avon and Somerset Police interviewed many riders, officials and members of the public to establish exactly what happened.
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The 23-year-old, who lived with his parents and step-brother in Yelverton and was riding for Team Herbalife-Leisure Lakes, was a highly respected athlete who competed in triathlons as well as elite cycle races across the UK. He also ran with Plymouth Harriers and swam with Plymouth Leander.
Sporting colleagues and friends have spoken of his dedication and enthusiasm for sport as well as his good nature.
British Cycling president Brian Cookson issued a statement following the sad news, saying: "This is a tragedy which will profoundly sadden everyone associated with cycling in this country. My thoughts are with Junior's family and with his friends."
Jon Rudd, head coach of Plymouth Leander swimming club said Junior was a member for just a year, but he recalled him as "very committed, very hard working."
Jon told The Herald: "He wasn't really into triathlons at that time – he was more interested in being a swimmer. But I think the triathlon came out of that swimming, it being a third of the discipline.
"He was a very pleasant lad with a very nice family who were exceptionally supportive.
"It's a massive tragedy – such a shame. My condolences to his family and his friends."
Karen Eccles, chair of Plymouth Harriers said Junior often ran with the group and had made many friends amongst its runners.
She said: "He'd become more involved with cycling. I'd seen him recently and he was asking for volunteers for a professional bike race he was organising later this month at Hatherleigh on Dartmoor.
"We saw him as a fellow Harrier because he's always done extremely well for us as a club, winning races.
"There was quite a few people who knew him and the news is quite a shock to us all. I had a couple of calls from members who were really close friends with him and they're really broken up. He was very keen and enthusiastic young man. He enjoyed whatever he did, running or cycling."
Plymouth-based triathlete Steve Ferguson said he was in shock at the news of his good friend and training partner.
Steve, aged 33, said he started training with Junior eight years ago.
He said: "He started off as a triathlete but then three years ago he moved to do more riding. He was a multiple triathlon winner, winning the Perranporth triathlon. He was such a talented athlete and bike rider. He was my training partner. Hearing this news is like having my stomach torn out."
Steve said Junior attended Kelly College in Tavistock and swam for the school, as well as other clubs. He said Junior's parents were incredibly supportive of their son and his sporting aims.
"His dad did everything he could for him to advance in sport," he said. "He even had a two lane, 50m long pool built in their back garden and we would train together. Junior was a good mate as well as a competition colleague.
"He was quite an intelligent lad. He never had a bad bone in his body. He was such a nice person – very thoughtful of other people, very police. He was brought up well.
"From around 15 or 16 years old it was just sport. He was totally focused and he had such support from his family."
He said Junior would regularly train on Dartmoor and loved the area.
Steve said: "He was a mountain goat up there. He could ride the legs off most other riders. A lot of people had doubted his ability, but I knew he was coming on as a rider.
"I'm racing semi-pro but I always had a lot of respect for him. I nurtured him and looked after him in some respects. He was such a good rider. He was always looking at the bigger picture. He'd gone to Ethiopia to live and train at altitude. He'd run with the Ethiopians, he'd run with the best in the world.
"He wanted a big signing. He would look up to people like Jon Tiernan-Locke [Plymouth-based Tour of Britain winner]. From what I've learned he was doing so well in the race. He was either leading the race or near the front.
"I want to do something for him, something like a memorial race. I'll speak to his family about doing something to honour him. I can't believe how his parent must feel."
Junior's death came at a time when he appeared to have renewed enthusiasm and lift to his sporting hopes.
Writing on his blog just two days before his death, Junior announced he was looking forward to the three-event Springtime Pursuits, followed by the Southern Semi-Classic, the Severn Bridge Road Race. This was his first race alongside members of his new team Herbalife-Leisurelakesbikes.com, which he hailed "proper racing".
Posting a picture of himself proudly wearing his new kit on Friday, he wrote he would follow up his blog "with some (hopefully) good news after the weekend".
The crash happened on the B4461 Vattingstone Lane, at its junction with Mumbleys, at Elberton, near Alveston in South Gloucestershire.
Witnesses, partciularly anyone who filmed the race, is is asked to contact the collision investigation unit on the force number 101 or on-line using the following link http://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/contact/crime_reporting/