AFTER months of preparation, hundreds of miles covered in training, and thousands of pounds raised in sponsorship, the 11-strong Cycling Souters team finally left Selkirk on Sunday morning to begin their 1,600-mile charity ride to Italy.

Cheered on by family and friends, they were joined by a handful of fellow cyclists, some of whom accompanied them as far as Denholm, the others going on to the Carter Bar.

Once across the border, the Cycling Souters party - which includes four support vehicles – headed to Newcastle to catch the overnight ferry to Amsterdam. From there they will travel though Holland, Belgium and France, arriving in Rome’s Piazza Navona six days later.

“It was great that so many people came along this morning to see us off,” said Cycling Souters team captain Gordon Hunter. “It’s given the group a huge lift.

“Ever since announcing we were going to take part in the challenge, we’ve had fantastic support, and the best news of all is that the money we’ve raised so far has just broken through the £30,000 barrier.

“This is a fantastic amount, and we’re truly grateful to all the individuals, organisations and local businesses who have made it possible.”

Led by ex-Scotland skipper Rob Wainwright, no fewer than 240 cyclists are currently making their way to Rome to deliver the match ball for Saturday’s Six Nations fixture between Italy and Scotland at the Stadio Olympico.

The aim of the ride is to raise £1m for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, which is working towards a world free of motor neurone disease by funding vital research into the condition.

Borderers can follow the Cycling Souters’ journey to Rome by clicking on this link to the group’s Facebook page:

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the cyclists’ effort should follow this link to the group’s JustGiving page: