A HAMPSHIRE cyclist may have been thrown in front of a passing car after riding into a fallen branch, an inquest heard.

James Atherton, a talented PhD student at the University of Southampton, was part of a group of five cyclists when he suddenly veered into the front of a Volkswagen Golf travelling the other way on a narrow New Forest lane. An inquest heard how the group had had a string of mishaps on their route, including a puncture and a broken spoke.

Southampton Coroner’s Court was told that Mr Atherton had joked: “I wonder what will happen next? Let’s not tempt fate.”

Mr Atherton, 25, of Burgess Road, Southampton, was a well-known member of the VC St Raphael cycling club.

The former Southampton Triathlon Club (STC) member was with a group of fellow cyclists on a ride from Ashurst to Beaulieu when the accident happened in Pitmore Lane, Sway, on January 14 this year, shortly before 10.45am.

The inquest heard how the group had been riding in single file, with James in fourth position.

Coming the other way was a car driven by 57-year-old Graham Well, from Worcestershire. He was driving his elderly parents Rosa and Jack, who live in Everton near Lymington, to Hedge End to meet other family members.

Blameless The inquest heard how Mr Wells, who was blameless for the death, said Mr Atherton veered out in front of him, giving him little chance of stopping. Two of the cyclists ahead of Mr Atherton had seen a branch on the road and tried to warn the others. Crash investigator Michael Johnston told the court he believed that it was possible Mr Atherton may have hit it. He said: “A piece of branch found on the road surface is substantial enough to cause a loss of control if struck by a cyclist.”

Mr Atherton died later in Southampton General Hospital after suffering severe head and leg injuries. Passing an accidental death ruling, coroner Keith Wiseman described the case as a “terrible tragedy”.

Mr Atherton, originally from Lancashire, was studying a PhD in medicine. He was on the verge of completing a vital medical research project.

Paying tribute, his course leader Dr Nicola Englyst said: “James was an extremely talented student. He was looking forward to completing his doctoral thesis and continuing with his research into how blood vessels maintain their health.”