A young British cyclist hailed as a future “star of the sport” has been killed in an horror collision with a car during a road race.
Junior Heffernan, 23, was knocked off his bike by an oncoming vehicle as he sped round a bend at the 41st Severn Bridge Road Race in Gloucestershire.
The up-and-coming athlete – known by pals as ‘The Heff’ – was making his debut for the Herbalife-Leisure Lakes team when the accident happened three laps into the race.
Paramedics treated him at the roadside but Junior was later declared dead at the scene of the 12:45pm accident.
Avon and Somerset Police have interviewed riders, officials and spectators but no arrests have been made.
Shaken friends from the world of cycling paid tribute to Heffernan today describing his death as a massive blow for the sport.
Brian Cookson, president of British Cycling, said: “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.”
Heffernan, a teenage triathlon champ tipped to become an elite Team GB cyclist, had posted pictures of himself posing proudly in his new team kit just days day before the race.
He wrote on his blog, Ride With The Heff: “This will be my first race alongside members of my new team, Team Herbalife-Leisurelakesbikes.com, proper racing! Plus my new kit arrived this week from Santini.”I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of my new kit, and follow up with some (hopefully) good news after the weekend!”Launched in the 1960s, the Severn Bridge Road Race comprises ten laps around a 6.6-mile open street circuit beginning in the South Gloucestershire hamlet of Old Down and taking in Alveston, Elberton, Olveston, and Tockington before finishing back at Old Down.”
A statement issued by the Herbalife-Leisure Lakes team said: “Junior was an elite rider who joined the team this year after racing in France the previous season.
“He was a young man with an enormous talent and enthusiasm for bike racing.
“His outgoing personality and infectious nature meant that for the short time that his team mates knew him he was welcomed and well liked by all and the team were excited by the prospect of seeing him race.
“Junior was an exceptional climber who was signed to strengthen the team in this field.”
The race is regarded as one of Britain’s best-established early-season cycling events, with a £2,000 prize fund.
It was immediately abandoned after Sunday’s accident, with riders returning to race headquarters visibly shaken.
Heffernan lived with his parents and step-brother in Yelverton, Devon, where the family built a two lane, 50m long pool in their back garden for him to train in.
He honed his cycling skills by taking on gruelling rides across Dartmoor National Park and boosted his endurance on high-altitude training trips to Africa.
Former training partner of eight years, Plymouth-based triathlete Steve Ferguson, 33, said: “He was such a talented athlete and bike rider. Hearing this news is like having my stomach torn out.
“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 could ride the legs off most other riders. 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.”
Ferguson added: “From what I’ve learned he was doing so well in the race. He was either leading the race or near the front. I can’t believe how his parent must feel.”
Karen Eccles, chair of Plymouth Harriers, where Heffernan was a former member, added: “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.”
Other athletes flocked to Twitter to pay tribute to their dead pal.
Former Olympic cyclist Brian Smith wrote: “Saddened to hear the news about Junior Heffernan….my condolences go to his family and friends.”
Triathlete Vanessa Raw added: “Dreadful news on Junior Heffernan, thoughts go out to family and friends. RIP”
Heffernan is the 11th professional cyclist to be killed in a road race in the past ten years, but all ten previous deaths have occurred outside the UK.
Avon and Somerset Police appealed for witnesses to come forward.
A spokesman said: “At about 12.45pm when the cyclist was travelling down Vattingstone Lane towards a left-hand bend he was in collision with a car travelling in the opposite direction.
“Despite being given treatment the cyclist was later declared dead at the scene. The road was closed for a detailed examination of the scene by police collision investigators.
“We would like to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time of the incident who may have information to help our enquiries.”