HEARTLESS thieves have stolen 12 specialist racing bikes belonging to wounded and injured veterans and service personnel ahead of an Iron Man triathlon.

A group of about 25 Help for Heroes staff and beneficiaries from Phoenix House recovery centre in Catterick Garrison were due to take part in the Cotswold Half Iron Man Triathlon on Saturday, as part of the centre’s Team True Spirit – a team of wounded veterans and personnel who push themselves to take part in ultra sport challenges.

Mark Airey, fitness co-ordinator at Phoenix House who set up Team True Spirit to inspire members to aim for success in challenging events, said the whole group had been gutted when they discovered the bikes – including Bianchi, Specialised and Scott cycles - had been stolen.

He said: “It was the night before the event and we were staying in the Go-By-Cycle campsite in Fomerscord Keynes in the Cotswolds, which we have done for the last four years when competing in the triathlon.

“The bikes were chained up and the gate of the campsite was also locked – but when we woke up at 4am to get ready for the 6am start on Saturday morning, the bikes were gone and the gate had been forced.

“There were Help For Heroes badges all over the place so it was obvious who we were.

“Although other people at the camp site were kind enough to lend us their bikes, there were a couple of members of our team who could not take part – some were so disappointed they went straight home.”

Many of the men and women due to take part had suffered serious injuries while serving in the Armed Forces and had been training for months in order to take part in the event, which involved a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a half marathon.

But Mr Airey said most of the team still had a great day.

“They can steal our bikes but they can’t steal our spirit – we were able to get most of the group a bike so they could take part, with some of those who took part last year giving up their bikes for others who would be participating for the first time," he said.

Team True Spirit members will be applying for funding again for more bikes ahead of the full Iron Man Triathlon on July 20 in Bolton, but any donations or loans of road bikes to the team would be greatly appreciated.

For more information call Phoenix House on 01748-834148.