Before settling into their saddles at The Vatican ahead of their perilous 2,384km journey dubbed The Italian Job, the team of ten took a pew to receive a personal blessing from none other than His Holiness.
The group of fundraisers, who call themselves Inspired Living, were congratulated by the Holy Father and presented him with a personalised keepsake.
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Team member, Andrew Gibson, 74, from Chilbolton, who has beaten bowel cancer, said: “I presented him with a Cancer Research UK cycling jersey. I turned it round and showed him that it had his name on it and he was really amused and thanked me really enthusiastically. It was a really good moment.”
Over 17 days, a total of 28 riders and six support crew whose lives have been touched by cancer, will cover six countries and climb 27,490m.
The team, ranging in age from 21 to 74, have already raised £370,000 over six previous rides, reaching destinations including Gibraltar, Venice, Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona.
As the group tackles iconic mountain climbs in snowy conditions, the memories of loved ones lost to cancer will be at the forefront of their minds.
After his fourth charity cycling challenge, Lionel Jones from Winchester tragically lost his wife, Alison, to a soft tissue sarcoma in 2017, just nine months after she was diagnosed.
Lionel, a project manager for IBM, co-founded the group to help a friend who had lost his wife. He added: “Now what’s driving me is the thought of my own wife because my daughters, Ellie, Samara and I miss her deeply. This disease rips families apart and we have to keep helping to beat it and find more treatments.”
Alongside raising money to help treat cancer, the group’s aim has always been to inspire ordinary men and women to adopt healthier lifestyles to reduce their risk of developing it.
Organiser James Wadley, from Ampfield recovered from a heart attack earlier this year and hopes to take on the full route.
Sponsor the team at donate.giveasyoulive.com/corporate/inspired-living/the-italian-job