PARALYMPIC cyclist Dame Sarah Storey has previewed the Cheshire route of the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Mercia, a new mass cycling event to be held in the North West.

The multiple gold medallist and an exclusive group of cyclists set off from the MacDonald Portal Golf and Spa Hotel in Tarporley to get the first taste of the new route, taking in some of its key points, including Beeston Castle, Little Switzerland, the Mid-Cheshire Ridge and some of the county’s most stunning countryside.

The Etape Mercia, which takes place on August 18, will welcome 2,500 cyclists from the UK and beyond, keen to take on the 69-mile challenge.

Billed as an entry level event, it is perfect for cyclists of all levels, although Sarah did stress the need for good training.

She said: “The route is easier than some, but still challenging – it is a fair distance and training will be essential.”

She added: “The views however, are incredible and if you choose to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care that is an excellent cause.”

The preview ride came just as Sport England announced that UK cycling is on the rise with around two million people now cycling at least once a week.

This has been largely due to Sarah and her fellow Paralympians and Olympians raising awareness of the sport both at London 2012 and since then, so she is delighted to welcome some of these cyclists to her home county.

“It’s great to support sport and promote a new large-scale cycling event in the North West and today has been a fantastic opportunity for us to start preparation. We’re very excited – it’s going to be a great event for the region,” she said.

The Etape Mercia is the third in a series of closed road events in the UK, organised by IMG Challenger World.

The series already includes Etape Pennines in Durham and Etape Caledonia in Scotland. There are still places available on the Etape Mercia, at www.etapemercia Entry is £63 and there are 200 free places for those who pledge to raise £250 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Marie Curie, the event’s charity partner, is joining Sarah in encouraging all participants to raise funds for its work, providing free hands-on nursing care to people with a terminal illness.

Marie Curie nurses cared for 2,000 terminally ill people across the North West last year and provided more than 100,000 hours of free care. The charity also provides vital care and support at the Marie Curie Hospice, Liverpool.

In her role as ambassador, Sarah visited the hospice earlier this year.

“It was my pleasure to visit the hospice and meet the patients and nurses face to face,” she said. “It gave me an important perspective on the work done by Marie Curie Cancer Care and where fundraising from the Etape Series goes towards.”

With strong links to charity partners, the Etape Series has also been instrumental in encouraging participants to raise well in excess of £1.5m for charity over its seven-year history.

James Robinson, managing director of IMG Challenger World, said: “With cycling placed firmly in the hearts and minds of the British public, following an incredible sporting year, the brand new Etape Mercia offers riders the chance to test their legs over some of the most inspirational and challenging countryside in the UK.

“We are delighted to bring the Etape Series to the North West – home of so many famous cyclists – and are sure the public will really get behind our participants.”