Helen Russell and Melissa Brand are proud to be flying the flag for female cyclists on Geoff Thomas’ ‘Le Tour – One Day Ahead’ challenge in aid of Cure Leukaemia.
The duo are the latest additions to Geoff’’s team and hope their attempt to complete the 3,300km, 2015 Tour de France route will underline the capabilities of female riders and boost the chances of a longer women’s race returning to cycling’s flagship event.
Helen, aged 39, a triathlete from Bromsgrove, and Melissa, 35, a Selly Oak-based road cyclist, will join Geoff in pedalling each of the 21 stages from July 3-25– just a day before the professional peloton.
Helen and Melissa’s arrival takes Geoff’s roster of cyclists into double figures and means he now has women riders among his ranks. Both say being a female representative was a big motivation to sign up for Le Tour.
Helen, who lost her mum to cancer in 1999, said:
“When I heard what Geoff and his team of riders were doing, I thought it was phenomenal. Being a big fan of the Tour de France, I wanted to be involved – particularly as it’s for a cause close to my heart.
I’ve attended the Tour three or four times with my dad, John, but to think I’ll now be attempting to cycle the route one day before the pros, riding the exact same roads they will, it will be such an incredible experience.
Another big motivation for me was learning there were no female riders on board. I felt I had to step up to the mark.
I am, and always have been, a big advocate of women’s rights in sport and I didn’t want the ride to go ahead without a female presence.
There’s also a campaign to introduce a fully-fledged women’s Tour de France. You often hear it suggested women aren’t strong enough to ride the entire route. But mine and Melissa’s involvement in Le Tour should give credence to the argument that women can do it, and that a full-length female Tour should be considered very seriously.”
Mel (pictured below) and Helen will also be taking part in London 2 Paris:
Inspiring the Revolution with Geoff in June.
“Similarly to Helen, when I heard there was no female rider on the team, I became extremely motivated to sign up.
Le Tour is an amazing opportunity to take on what most people say is the toughest endurance event in the world of sport.
With the focus on raising money for the lifesaving work of Cure Leukaemia, it’s something I wanted to achieve and support.
It’s also really important for me to show that women can ride hard and are capable of cycling long distances.
The Grand Boucle hasn’t run since 2009 and although the women had a one-day, relatively short race at the Tour last year called ‘La Course by Le Tour de France’, it will be great to show that females deserve more equal opportunities.”
Helen, currently working as National Officer for Managers in Partnership, has competed in Triathlon for nine years and represents Great Britain at an amateur level.
A member of the Bromsgrove & Redditch Athletics Club, Birmingham Running & Triathlon Club and Evesham Wheelers Cycling Club, she struck gold at the 2011 World Sprint Duathlon Championships, 2012 European Sprint Duathlon Championships and 2013 European Sprint Triathlon Championships.
Surrey-born Melissa, an Investment Analyst at the Shirley office of Prologis, a global provider of industrial real estate, competes for the Ikon-Mazda Women’s Road Cycling team in UK National Series and European UCI races.
She started out as a triathlete, representing Team Timex Multisport in the Age Group World Championships, but decided to focus on her main strength, cycling, two years ago.
However, simply being in shape for their respective disciplines will by no means guarantee that either woman can complete Le Tour.
Cycling the equivalent distance of Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again, and then onto Plymouth, and negotiating seven mountain stages featuring five summit finishes along the way, is by far the toughest physical and mental challenge they have faced.
Leukaemia survivor Geoff, who incredibly completed the route in 2005 just six months after going into remission, will be their inspiration.
Melissa said: “I’ve done three Iron Mans but this is going to be considerably harder. I’m very excited but suitably respectful of the huge challenge ahead.
One word springs to mind when I think about Geoff completing this challenge while he was in a sub-optimal condition: wow!
What he’s done to help leukaemia patients is incredible. I live locally to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where much of Cure Leukaemia’s funds are put to such fantastic use. I am extremely motivated to raise funds for this enormously worthwhile cause.”
Helen added: “It was phenomenal, just incredible, for Geoff to take the challenge on so soon after his treatment.
It’s such a tough feat that there are many pros who haven’t completed it. I’m daunted by it – but it is achievable if you respect the Tour. Geoff has shown that.
He is an inspiration. Not only to complete the challenge, but also to hit my fundraising target.”
“I’d like to officially welcome Helen and Melissa to the team. It’s great that we’ve been able to add not one but two female riders.
They’re so focussed on the challenge ahead and have joined with a steely determination to not only complete Le Tour, but raise as much money as possible to help blood cancer patients.
Having such dedicated riders will help us achieve our ultimate goal – raising £1million for Cure Leukaemia.”
In 2003, Geoff was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and was given less than three months to live. 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.
There is still a chance to join Geoff’s peloton in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience life as a pro-cyclist, with full rolling road closures and support crew and vehicles, one day ahead of the actual Tour de France. For further information, visit: www.beforethetour.com
Visit Melissa’s fundraising page here: https://www.justgiving.com/Melissa-Brand-Le-Tour-One-Day-Ahead-2015/
Visit Helen’s fundraising page here: https://www.justgiving.com/HelenRussell-LeTour
Cure Leukaemia's £1m Centre Appeal 2017