MICHAEL Leather believes cycling may have helped save his life.

Ten years ago the businessman, who heads up Leathers the Accountants in Newcastle, Durham and Harrogate, was significantly overweight and was questioning his lifestyle choices.

“I had one of those near death moments on Vancouver Island in 2008 that made me realise I didn’t want to die behind a desk. I was overweight, it was food and drink – I am a businessman,” he says with a laugh.

“It sounds completely wrong, but there is a lot of that.

“I came back and was challenged to do the Great North Bike Ride and being uber competitive there was no way I wanted my staff making me look like an idiot.

“Because I was carrying so much weight I went and rode the course three times before the actual event just to understand where I needed to work hard. I got myself a carbon road bike just to minimise the weight I was carrying. I really thought about it.”

His meticulous preparation paid off.

“I was first across the line from the office. I felt ace,” he says.

Michael, now 57, had got the bug.

“About a year later I took myself off to Majorca on a training camp. As I am an accountant this is probably understandable – I plotted out what a three per cent gradient looked like and I thought I could do that. I went and found a hill that was basically three per cent and thought ‘I can do this’.

“There is a climb that goes up Lluc monastery with a particular number of hairpins. What I didn’t appreciate at that time in complete naivety was that three per cent meant an average!

“Even now there is naivety in the things I do, because I haven’t cycled all my life. I rode when I was young, but this has been a real journey.”

It’s a journey that shows no sign of stopping.

“The guys in the office know I would, more often than not, rather be out cycling than being here,” he says.

“This year I have been to Lanzarote, I have done Cape Epic – a UCI mountain bike race – I have done Le Loop. I came back and did a week in the Maritime Alps just for a wind-down.”

The benefits haven’t all being physical.

“Actually being fit and healthy is helpful,” he says. “But there are also a whole load of work benefits, in terms of mental health. I could quite happily get into a whole debate about that – health and wellbeing and just de-stressing.

“People say to me ‘what do you think about when you are on the bike?’ . For me, there are three different days – There are the days where you don’t think anything, you just get on the bike and ride and soak up the environment. There are days when it’s left, right, left, right. You want to be out but it’s hard work, for whatever reason. All you are doing is concentrating getting up the climb, or getting from A to B.

“Then there are the days you go out where you think about everything under the sun. Whichever combination it is, there are more times than I care to mention that if there is something that has been bothering me at work, some issues, some thought process...

“I digress, but computers were new when I was at school and we were all told about the central processing unit and how it worked through the calculations. I think the brain is like that, you can put stuff in it and leave it there and it will eventually churn out an answer.

“Cycling does that for me. It’s almost like I can leave a problem in there, go out for a four-hour ride and come back and say ‘right, we are doing this, this, this and this’ and everyone goes ‘woah’.”

Michael, who helps support local rider Anna Kay and is a sponsor of her team Storey Racing, says he cannot imagine a life without cycling in it.

“I get a lot of stick off people in the office when I go ‘I had a medical the other day and they told me I had the blood pressure of a 42-year-old,” he says. “I was told I looked 48 when I did Le Loop and one of the support staff said ‘no, he’s 72’. I said ‘if I am 72 and look this good I will take that any day of the week’.

“It is now all about trying to make sure that cycling remains part of my life. So I am an evangelist? yes probably.”