A TEACHER from South Tyneside is getting on his bike in a bid to raise £20,000 for charity.
Ali McConway, of South Shields, is one of 12 riders planning to cycle 1,200 miles from Gateshead to Italy in July.
The 40-year-old, a PE teacher at Whickham School and Sports College in Gateshead, is a former player at Gateshead Rugby Club, and all his fellow riders have links to the club too.
The money is being raised for Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of three former Gateshead players – Stu Marshall, Mark Dadley and Kevin Clough – who lost their lives to the illness.
It is a daunting challenge for the group as they will have to average almost 100 miles a day over the course of their two-week ride.
They will start in Gateshead, then riding to London, before taking the Eurostar to Paris.
From there, they will ride through France, over the Alps and into Italy, finishing on the shores of Lake Iseo in Lombardy.
Mr McConway, a former captain of Westoe Rugby Club, retired from the game two years ago through injury and took up cycling to stay active.
He has described the challenge as an honour, but he accepts that raising the target figure may be difficult.
He said: “Cycling in memory of three former Gateshead rugby players, one of whom I had the pleasure of playing alongside, is a great honour.
“I knew Stu Marshall, and his family received compassionate care from Macmillan nurses, who gave vital support.
“Everyone who hears of what we are raising money for replies ‘what a great charity’. Every single mile will be worth it.
“It’s going to be a real challenge to raise £20,000, but although it is an ambitious figure, we are determined to do it as the charity resonates with so many people.”
Each rider is funding the travel and accommodation for the trip themselves, meaning every penny raised will go to the charity.
Fundraising events are also set to take place before the bike ride, including an auction evening on Saturday, March 29, at Gateshead Rugby Club in Eastwood Gardens, Low Fell.
Many items have already been donated to the auction, including a signed pair of boots from former Sunderland and current Liverpool footballer Jordan Henderson, a signed and framed Newcastle United shirt and rugby memorabilia.
The auction will be hosted by North-East comedians Steffen Peddie, one of the stars of the BBC2 sitcom Hebburn, and Brendan Healy.
Ticket enquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Springsteen tribute act The Rising will also perform at the club on Friday, February 7, to raise funds.
To find out more, visit www.facebook.com/GreatBikeRide2014 or www.justgiving.com/Thegreatitalianmacmillancycleride2014