TRIBUTES have been paid to a popular cyclist has died following a collision with a car in the New Forest.

James Atherton was seriously injured on Sunday – just 24 hours after taking part in a race – and died in hospital on Monday.

Mr Atherton, 25, was studying for a PhD in medicine at Southampton University.

His course leader, Dr Nicola Englyst, said: “James was an extremely talented student who was in the final year of his PhD in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton.

“He was very much looking forward to completing his doctoral thesis and continuing with his research into how blood vessels maintain their health.

“James’ research brought him into contact with many staff and students in the hospital and the University.

“He was generous with his time and energy and always had time for anyone who asked his help and he will be sorely missed.

“James was someone who was just so good at everything he put his mind to. His death is a terrible end to a wonderful life.”

Mr Atherton, of Burgess Road, Southampton, was a well-known member of the Portsmouth-based VC St Raphael cycling club.

Club spokesman Mick Waite said: “James was making good progress at the club and everyone spoke very highly of him.

“He raced at Ludgershall in Wiltshire on Saturday in awful conditions and then went for a ride on Sunday.”

Mr Atherton was a former member of Southampton Triathlon Club.

Chairman Julian McCarthy said: “The local triathlon and cycling community is small and close knit, and we were devastated to hear of his tragic death at such a young age and would like to express our condolences to his family and racing friends who will miss his quiet determination and his natural ability.”

Mr Atherton was with a group of fellow cyclists when the accident happened in Pitmore Lane, Sway.

A message posted on the STC website said: “Some very sad news has come in regarding James Atherton, who was a club member for a short period of time for 2010-2011.

“He was involved in a collision with a car and, in spite of being airlifted to hospital, has died of his injuries.

“James was only 25 and was a strong and experienced cyclist. A really terrible thing to have happened and STC offers its condolences to his family.”

The car involved in the accident was a grey Volkswagen Golf that was travelling towards Brockenhurst when the collision happened just before 11am.

Police say the vehicle was being driven by a 57-year-old man from Evesham, Worcestershire, who was unhurt.

Pitmore Lane was closed for several hours while police investigated the cause of the crash and arranged for the car and the bicycle to be recovered.

Anyone who witnessed the collision is asked to contact the Totton Roads Policing Unit on 101, quoting Operation Baroque.

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