TRIBUTES have been paid to a stalwart of Bradford cycling and running who died on Christmas Day from cancer at the age of 82.

John Rawnsley, who lived in Bingley, was president of Yorkshire Cyclo Cross and was a co-founder and organiser of the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross race in the Dales.

Mr Rawnsley was described as a legend of cycling who not only organised the first 50 Three Peaks Race under the auspices of Bradford Racing Cycling Club, but won the first of the daunting races in 1961.

He took part in 45 editions of the race, described as the toughest in the world, and stepped down as organiser in 2012 at the age of 75.

His son Philip said he was diagnosed with cancer three months ago and his family spent his last weeks spending time with him before he passed away peacefully at home.

He said: “The doctors didn’t think he’d have more than three weeks but he had a nice last few months

“He never had been in any pain. They gave him piles of painkillers but he ended up using none at all.

“I guess his body had acclimatised to pain.

“He did a lot of walking in his later years and must have known every single footpath in Yorkshire.”

He said his family had set up the John Rawnsley Cyclist Development Fund in his honour to help young aspiring cyclo cross riders with potential in Yorkshire.

Mr Rawnsley started cycling in 1954 at the age of 17 with the Bradford Elite Cycling Club and moved on to Yorkshire Road Club before he moved into cyclo cross and the Bradford RCC. He was also a member of Bingley Harriers and regularly led long training runs over some tough hilly routes.

Philip Rawnsley said that among dad’s many achievements was completing the Bob Graham Round of 42 Lake District fells in less than 24 hours and entering the Guinness Book of Records for the quickest traverse of the Pennine Way by cycle, completing the 271 miles off road in under three days in 1976.

He was company secretary for textile firm Whaleys on Great Horton Road, Bradford.

He was a president of Yorkshire Cyclo Cross and the association’s secretary Fred Rothwell said he was one of the driving forces behind the cyclo cross events at Peel Park in Bradford and Myrtle Park in Bingley. “John was legend of cycling,” he said.

“He inaugurated and won the first Three Peaks but he was more than that.

“He was such a strong guy. He had been ill for a number of months but he didn’t look any different.”

He said he was that kind of figure that his work will continue.

He added that it had been a particularly sad time for the association as the chairman Peter Milsom had died, also from cancer, in September.

Mark Richmond, who worked with Mr Rawnsley for many years as organiser of the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross event, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to be asked by John to form and lead the 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross race organising group following his retirement as organiser in 2012.

“John’s work and achievements in the cycling and fell running community were truly remarkable and provides inspiration to myself and countless others.

“John created a race unlike any other and the spirit and heritage of the race has, and will remain strong.”

A statement on the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross website said: “It is with great sadness to announce that John Rawnsley, race founder, first winner, and organiser of the first 50 editions passed away on Christmas Day following an illness with cancer. The race organising group offer our condolences to Brigitte and the Rawnsley family.”

Mr Rawnsley was a life member of British Cycling and the organisation tweeted: “John was a truly great ambassador for our sport and will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Yorkshire Cyclo Cross posted on its website: “We are very sad to announce the passing, on Christmas Day, of Yorkshire Cyclo Cross president, ‘Mr 3 Peaks’ John Rawnsley.

“John had been fighting cancer for the past few months, but still managed to attend the recent Myrtle Park event, where he was able to meet up with many old friends.”

Mr Rawnsley’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, January 15 at 12.15pm at St Mary and St Monica’s, in Cottingley.

Family and close friends will be going onto the crematorium for the service of committal but all other friends are welcome to go straight on to the Bradford and Bingley Rugby Club where John will be remembered over refreshments and drinks.