MARK Bright fights back the tears as he recalls the gut-wrenching moment he discovered Geoff Thomas had been given just three months to live – and he is urging anyone who can ride a bike not to miss out on the ‘unforgettable experience’ of cycling from London to Paris with his ex-Crystal Palace captain.
Geoff is celebrating the tenth anniversary of going into remission by holding two major cycling events this summer to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia – the blood cancer charity he owes his life to.
The first challenge, ‘London2Paris: Inspiring the Revolution’, will see the former England international lead a closed group of up to 300 cyclists – including his former Palace colleagues Mark, Ian Wright and John Salako – on the 500km ride from June 18-22.
Anyone planning to join Geoff on L2P – a professional event for amateur riders which caters for all abilities – will need to pedal quickly, as there are only 20 places left. SIGN UP HERE >
“I’d urge anyone who is still thinking about signing up to get involved. You ride in ability groups and there’s plenty of time to get out and get some miles under your belt in preparation.
L2P is a unique experience. From getting up each day with the other riders and going for breakfast, getting your bike out, pumping up the tyres, laughing and joking as you’re doing your warm-up exercises, then setting off on the ride – the camaraderie is different class.
“They close the roads in France and everyone rides into Paris together. It’s an amazing feeling. Outside of football, I’d put it up there as one of my greatest experiences. You’re part of something really special.
“When you’ve done it, you’ll say to anyone who is considering doing it: ‘sign up and raise as much money as you can – you’ll have such a great time’.”
The real purpose of the L2P challenge is the pressing need to raise more funds for the lifesaving work of Cure Leukaemia. This was not lost on Mark as he reflected on that harrowing day in 2003 when he learned Geoff had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia.
Following treatment from Cure Leukaemia Co-founder Professor Charlie Craddock, including a stem cell transplant from sister Kay, Geoff has been in remission since January 2005.
“It doesn’t seem like 12 years ago, but our then Palace manager Steve Coppell told me about Geoff’s diagnosis over the phone,” said Mark, who recently visited Villa Park with Geoff for the 25th anniversary of the Eagles’ famous 4-3 FA Cup semi-final victory over the mighty Liverpool.
“Like everyone else, I couldn’t believe it. A few days later, I was coming up to Aston Villa to interview Paul Merson for Football Focus. Geoff had a shop in Birmingham and I remember calling ‘the skip’ and arranging to meet him for a cup of tea. We just chatted and had a laugh.
“I drove back down to London and started crying in the car. I still couldn’t believe it. He looked in similar health to me and I started questioning ‘why him?’
But I remember Steve telling me that if anyone could beat it, Geoff could, because of how strong and determined he is. You’ve also got to be lucky. Everyone knows that. A lot of other leukaemia patients have passed away but Geoff’s still here.
“He’s now trying to do good things for blood cancer patients. The old Palace lads will do anything we can to assist him.”
The footballing family will also be represented on L2P by another leukaemia survivor – former England striker Gary Lineker’s eldest son George.
Mark was at Leicester City with Gary and remembers when George, now 22, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia while still a baby.
“It was devastating for Gary and his then-wife Michelle – but George pulled through.
He’s now in his early twenties and very fit. He’s a funny guy who will really enjoy the banter on L2P.
“George more than most knows what the ride’s about. He’s a survivor because people go out and do good things to raise money for good causes.
“The funds raised from L2P will go towards what I hope to see in my lifetime: a cure for leukaemia.”
‘London 2 Paris: Inspiring The Revolution’ is arguably the best four days you can have on a bike anywhere, anytime.
Every aspect of the ride is planned with precision, including rolling road closures throughout France.
It might sound like an event only fit for cycling’s elite, but with four different speed groups, it is a challenge anyone can take on – and have a lot of fun along the way!
Other participants include England Under-20s boss Aidy Boothroyd, TV presenter Jill Douglas and former Wales rugby union international Andrew Lewis.
Cure Leukaemia's £1m Centre Appeal 2017