ROLLING THUNDER

Readers may find it alarming to learn that, in September 2004, a group of UK venture capitalists were involved in a confrontation with Italy's armed forces.

No, this wasn't a London-based LBO group revealing an audacious bid to acquire a unit of the Italian Ministry of Defence as a precursor to controversial cost-cutting measures. The party involved were in fact the Birmingham private equity community's self-styled “Gods on Bikes”.

The Gods on Bikes concept was dreamt up two years ago by John Handley, a director at Lloyds TSB Development Capital in Birmingham, and Guy Green, head of private equity at the local office of law firm Eversheds. The two cycling enthusiasts decided to raise cash for charity by embarking on long-distance cycle journeys.

Having teamed up with three equally willing friends in the Birmingham finance world, the bikers undertook their first sojourn in 2002 in the form of a 600-mile trek from Paris to Monte Carlo, raising £15,000 (€21,600; $27,500) in the process.

In September 2004, the same group repeated the feat with a 700-mile pedal-fest from Monte Carlo to Rome, raising a further £16,000 for the Birmingham Heartlands Hospital neo-natal unit and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

It was during this latest escapade that the military standoff occurred. The group's diary of the journey recorded: “10.30am: GPS (global positioning system) takes us into landmine field with Italian paratroopers landing all around. 10.31am: Italian paratroop colonel suggests we lose ourselves”.

Handley insists other moments of alarm were avoided, save the occasional “spill” and a few buckled wheels. Indeed, the quintet freewheeled so serenely to the finish line that they had no sooner showered than they were making plans for the next stage from Rome to Vienna in 2006.

But what are we to make of the “Gods on Bikes” sobriquet? Rather than an example of over-inflated egos, it is in fact a reference to a light-hearted element of the fundraising in which visitors to the website www.godsonbikes.com are invited to match cyclists with the Roman god whose character most closely resembles that of the individual in question.

Best keep a close eye then on Andy Parker, a director of private equity at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who has received the most votes as Caligula: “a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty”.