He's won some of the world’s top cycling races and is preparing to take part in the Tour de France for the 17th time. But Jens Voigt – one of the biggest names in the sport – found time in his busy schedule to support a charity bike ride in Hampshire.

The German star flew over from his home in Berlin at the request of his long-time friend, Hampshire sailmaker Stuart Grace.

Stuart’s daughter Amy, 18, has suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties for 15 years.

He asked Jens to help him raise thousands of pounds for the Epilepsy Society – and was delighted when the famous sportsman agreed without hesitation.

Many of the 70 fundraisers at the New Forest ride found themselves chatting to someone who has twice worn the leader’s yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

The 41-year-old father-of-six left with the first batch of cyclists and then dropped back to join the following groups at designated intervals so each rider taking part had the privilege of cycling with the star.

Stuart, 56, of Ashley, near New Milton, said: “I’ve known Jens for 15 years, having met him when I was racing in France. When I asked him to come over he said ‘yes’ straight away – the conversation only lasted about ten seconds.

“Jens is one of the biggest names in international cycling and the reception he got was awesome.

“Some people asked me why I hadn’t got a British rider but it would have cost too much. The fee would have been so high that we wouldn’t have made any money for charity.

“With Jens all I had to pay was his £240 air fare from Berlin.”

After spending four years in the German army Jens started cycling professionally in 1997, winning dozens of races since.

He currently competes for the Luxembourg-based professional team RadioShack Leopard Trek.

The New Forest ride, which began at the Hoburne Bashley holiday park, is expected to raise about £6,000.

It came amid growing controversy over the increasing number of cyclists taking part in time trials and other major events in the area.

Two week ago vandals tried to sabotage the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive by sprinkling tacks on a road near Boldre as 1,850 riders set off on the opening day.

One cyclist is said to have fallen and broken his collarbone after riding over the drawing pins.