FRIENDS and former teammates of Matthew J Watkins will ride from Llanelli to Oakdale next month to mark what would have been the former Wales centre's birthday.

Shane Williams and Alix Popham will be among the 22-strong peleton for the challenge that will raise funds for Velindre.

The 150-kilometre ride on Wednesday, September 2 – when Watkins would have turned 42 – is a tribute to the former Newport and Dragons back who died in March from cancer.

It will start at Parc y Scarlets and head to the Liberty Stadium, Principality Stadium, Rodney Parade, Pontllanfraith and then Oakdale, where Watkins coached and his sons Sior and Tal play.

Free Press Series: FUNDRAISER: Matthew J Watkins (far right) on a charity bike ride for Velindre in AmericaFUNDRAISER: Matthew J Watkins (far right) on a charity bike ride for Velindre in America

Former Wales and Llanelli coach Gareth Jenkins, who signed the centre and then selected him while in charge of the national team, will be at the start line.

He said: "Matthew approached his illness with the same determination as he had been as a player.

"It was so sad that he was to pass at a time when we were unable to pay the kind of tribute which Matthew richly deserved.

"It is a huge testament to Matthew the person that his friends are undertaking this charity cycle ride for Velindre Cancer Centre, to honour his memory.

"We are all thinking of Matthew's family at this time, his wife Stacey and his two cherished boys, Siôr and Tal."

The ride has been organised by Gavin Bennett, who is keen to keep raising funds as a tribute to his friend.

He said: "Over the last seven years 'MJ' inspired so many of his friends and family to take on challenges and support charities, in particular Velindre Cancer Centre, which was very close to his heart.

"Some of us were lucky enough to experience some of these life changing events with him and meet some truly inspirational people, and we have MJ to thank for this.

Free Press Series:

"In true MJ fashion, we're not going to sit on our backsides and mope about his loss, but do something positive, and that I'm sure he'd appreciate.

"So we have organised this bike ride as a way of remembering our special friend on his birthday and to raise awareness and hopefully lots of money for Velindre – which was really important to him."

Oakdale Technical Services and Woodcraft Wales have sponsored the cycling tops, Nutirvend are supplying food during the ride, Millie Davidge has designed the logo and Thomas Carroll are providing insurance.

To donate click: HERE