A GROUP of gutsy pals were this week gearing up for the challenge of their lives – taking on the toughest stage of the Tour de France ahead of the professionals.

Fifty-year-old building company director Martyn Syner, from Clent, barrister Nick Cartwright, aged 51, from Hagley, and Andrew Wyer, aged 50, from Kinver, sales director at Fletcher Boats in Wolverhampton, will be taking part in the L’Etap du Tour, which is set over stage 18 of this year’s epic cycle race, on Sunday July 20.

Their pals Paul Hughes, aged 45 and a landscape gardener from Wolverley, retired American-born HSBC banker John Uphoff, aged 60, from Low Habberley, West Midlands Police officer Andrew Bentley, aged 43, from Kidderminster, sales manager Mike Mockett, aged 53, from Bewdley, and company director John Williams, aged 50, from Stockton-on-Teme, will also be taking part in the challenge which was first launched in 1993 to give amateur cyclists chance to test themselves on one of the mountainous stages of the Tour de France.

The gang, who headed off to France yesterday (Wednesday July 16), hope to complete the gruelling 95-mile course, which takes in two Pyrenees climbs, in around eight hours.

Mr Syner, a director of Edgborn Developments in Lye, said: “The professionals will do it in five hours – four days later. It’s all closed roads as it would be during the Tour de France.”

“It happens every year and they always pick the hardest stage of the Tour de France. We must be insane.”

Mr Syner, who bought a minibus especially to drive the team to the start line, said he wanted to prove he has what it takes to complete a major challenge after turning 50 a few weeks ago.

Although he has completed 75 to 100 mile rides before, he admitted he’s somewhat daunted at the prospect of the mighty ascents of the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam.

In preparation for the challenge - the guys, who are sponsored by Swift Roofing, have been cycling up to 200 miles a week and between them they've lost more than 20 stone in weight.

Nick said: "There will be nearly 12,000 entrants, some 3,000 of which are expected to be swept up by the broom wagon - a fleet of buses and lorries which follows the event and collects up those who are not cycling sufficiently quickly."

The team, which also includes back up crew members Chris Syner from Blakedown and French chef Dominique Saley from Shatterford, aim to raise money for Get Kids Going which helps disabled young athletes.