"We could have been killed," said coach accompanying former Southampton player Francis Benali on charity challenge...

A former Premier League footballer who is undertaking seven Ironman-distance triathlons in seven days had a very close call yesterday when a driver ignored a red traffic light and almost crashed into him and the two companions he was cycling with.

Francis Benali, who played more than 300 games for Southampton, scoring one goal, set off yesterday on his Ironfran charity challenge, which will see him swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a 26.2-mile Marathon each day, from Trafford Park in Greater Manchester.

But the Daily Echo reports that the 50-year-old plus  his coach and a support cyclist were almost hit by a driver who ignored a red traffic light.

Coach Andrew Hartley, aged 44, said: “I’ve never had a near miss like it in all my years of cycling.

"I was riding just in front of Franny as we approached a major set of traffic lights which were green when a car shot across the front of us having jumped the red light.

“I literally had to make a 50/50 call to go left or right.

"It was an unbelievably hairy moment – we could have been killed.

“Franny’s back wheel locked up but he swung a left just behind me.

"Thankfully the driver saw us at that moment and slammed on her brakes or we would have been across the bonnet of her car.

"We were very lucky.”

Benali completed the day’s route, spending the night in Nottingham and recommenced his challenge at 6am this morning, his eventual destination this evening being Leicester.

In the coming days he will continue via Bristol, Berkshire and Farnham to finish in Southampton on Sunday, where he will take part in his home town’s marathon before getting back on his bike for the final leg.

It’s the third and final challenge he has undertaken in an effort to raise £1 million for Cancer Research – we featured the second one on road.cc in 2016 when he ran a marathon and cycled 120 kilometres each day between 44 football grounds in England and Wales.

He expects that each Ironman-distance triathlon will take up to 18 hours to complete and that he will consume 10,000 calories a day.

He told the Daily Echo: I’ve been used to eating on the bike but this will be different with the days being an awful lot longer .

“It’s also about getting the timing right. I could be finishing after 10pm and don’t want to be having to sit down to a big meal after a marathon before falling straight into bed.

“It’s a tricky one to get right and hopefully it won’t be an issue but there have been similar challenges that have failed because the athlete hasn’t consumed enough calories.”

In 2014, the former footballer was named the inaugural winner of the Barclays Spirit of the Game award when he ran between all 20 Premier League stadiums within three weeks, raising more than a quarter of a million pounds for Cancer Research.

You can find out more information and sponsor his latest fundraising effort here.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.