Junior Heffernan, the rider killed in a collision with a car in the Severn Bridge Road Race yesterday, has been described as driven, determined and always smiling by his former coach.
The incident happened on a descent during the second lap of the Gloucestershire race on 3 March, when Heffernan collided with a car travelling in the opposite direction. A police statement said he was pronounced dead at the scene. The race was abandoned.
23-year-old Heffernan, an elite category rider from Yelverton, Devon, representing the Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes.com squad, was at the head of the race when the incident happened.
British Cycling said such incidents were extremely rare and it was first fatality in “many, many years”.
Coach Julius Jennings worked with him for more than four years before Heffernan travelled to France to ride for VC Riomois last year. He said he was shocked by the news.
“I couldn’t believe it – it’s a really sad loss,” Jennings told BikeRadar. “I would say he was very determined – he had self-belief when other people told him he couldn’t do it. He was always smiling and he was always polite. He used to get really annoyed with himself when he didn’t do well in races.”
Tributes also poured in to a Facebook page set up for Heffernan.
The incident has sparked calls for races in Britain to be conducted under rolling road closures, possibly under the direction of accredited marshals and groups such as motorbike outriders for the National Escort Group (NEG). In Wales, marshals have been given powers to stop traffic under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, but the system is not in place across England.
Dutch rider Wouter Sybrandy, of the IG-Sigma Sport team, was also in the race. He said on Twitter: “Racing on open roads no longer of this time, rolling road closures work, no need for police, marshals/NEG should have right to stop traffic.”
In a statement, British Cycling said the incident “will profoundly sadden everyone associated with cycling.
“Fortunately, these incidents are extremely rare and this fatality is the first in many, many years. British Cycling takes this matter extremely seriously and we will conduct our own investigation. We are also co-operating fully with the police.”
Today, Avon and Somerset Police appealed to spectators who might have filmed the race to come forward, as their evidence could assist with enquiries.