A ROYAL Marine cyclist from Wallasey played a crucial part in the preparations for the prestigious Tour de France.

Sergeant Mark Hill was one of a 70-strong Armed Forces “peloton” that pedalled the two day route from historic Harewood House on the outskirts of Leeds to the centre of Sheffield ahead of Le Grand Depart last weekend.

The 41-year-old joined the Royal Marines 24 years ago and has served on operations in Afghanistan.

Mark serves with the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in Portsmouth. He is also a member of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Cycling Association.

“I think since I was four, when I first rode my bike with no stabilisers, there was that sense of freedom – just to get on the bike and pedal all day and end up somewhere else,” said Mark, a former pupil of Mosslands Secondary School.

“I did do some triathlons in my early twenties and I’ve always had a bike – whether a road bike or mountain bike.

“I turned 40 last year, and I think achieving the 1664 Challenge is my main achievement. Because of the training I did for that, I’ve now starting racing and I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been on a bike, which has led me on to racing for the Royal Navy.”

The arduous route weaves its way past some of the most beautiful landscape, historic places and industrial heritage in the region.

The first day saw Mark cycle the 118 miles through Skipton and the Yorkshire Dales past Aysgarth Falls and climbing the famous Buttertubs – an iconic 250m high ascent expected to challenge the Tour de France riders.

Mark’s training programme was specifically designed for the 1664 Challenge and is now geared towards his racing.

“I wasn’t too fussed about riding the Tour de France route,” said Mark.

“I know I’ve already got the mileage in my legs from May-time, but my training in between is very specific for what races I have coming up.  I have to make sure I recover properly and I’m getting a bit older now – it takes its toll on the body.

“Every year since my early teens I’ve always followed the Tour de France on the telly or in magazines. 

“This year I think I had the chance to go and watch the first two opening stages in the Tour de France and then when this opportunity came up to test ride it, it was a no-brainer really to put myself forward.”