An emotional Geoff Thomas insisted there will be no let-up in his fundraising mission for Cure Leukaemia after his Le Tour – One Day Ahead challenge reached a triumphant finale in Paris.
The ex-England footballer and his team of ten amateur cyclists brought their brutal 3,360km ride to an end when they crossed the finish line under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on Saturday afternoon, via the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees.
Geoff was joined by Birmingham-based duo Melissa Brand, aged 35, and Stephen Jones, 53, James Maltin, 39, of Wiltshire, Doug McKinnon, 55, from Brighton, Hayden Groves, 41, of Hertfordshire, Guildford-based Ciaran Doran, 49, Trevor Clarke, 49, from Rugby, Simon Gueller, 50, from Yorkshire, Dom Goggins, 30, of Manchester, and Helen Russell, 39, from Bromsgrove in riding the punishing Tour de France route, cycling each of the 21 stages a day before the professionals.
Le Tour – One Day Ahead set off from Utrecht, Holland, on July 3 and since then each cyclist has burned around 95,000 calories and climbed 40,000 metres in pedalling almost 2,100 miles. The team had to contend with 40-plus degree heat, wall-like ascents and frightening mountain-top thunderstorms in riding an average of 110 miles a day.
Helen and James required stitches after crashes during an eventful first week while Simon took on Le Tour just three weeks after suffering a collapsed lung and broken ribs and Doug had ongoing knee problems.
The support staff were also kept busy treating dehydration, saddle sores, sickness and blisters to keep the riders on their bikes as they were pushed to the limit.
“It’s been really tough, and even the professionals a day behind us were saying it’s one of the toughest 21 days they’ve been through,” said 50-year-old Geoff, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and given just three months to live in 2003.
We had to contend with cobbles and strong winds in Northern France during the first week, then we dropped down to the Pyrenees where the heat was incredible and the mountains steep. You think you’re going to get respite between the Pyrenees and Alps but no, the temperature went up again. It was 42 degrees one day. There was no respite until we crossed the finish line.
Over the past three weeks, individuals have earned respect in different ways and given everything. After a tense first three days, which was understandable, it’s been great to see the whole team gel and work together.
We’ve put ourselves through such rigours purely for patients who desperately need new medicines and drugs, to give them a chance of life. No matter how torturous our challenge has been, it’s nothing compared to what blood cancer sufferers go through.
What’s kept me going is knowing that the money’s going to Professor Charlie Craddock and his great team of doctors and nurses who will save lives. The research from the clinical trials doesn’t just benefit the UK, but the worldwide fight against blood cancer."
The team’s superhuman efforts have pushed Geoff’s fundraising total for Cure Leukaemia – the blood cancer charity he is Patron of and owes his life to – past the £650,000 mark.
Le Tour – One Day Ahead followed hot on the heels of Geoff’s other major cycling challenge this summer, London 2 Paris. Both are flagship events in his bid to raise £2million for Cure Leukaemia inside two years.
"I’ve gone through loads of different emotions,” admitted the ex-Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest midfielder.
I’ve been celebrating ten years of both being in remission from blood cancer and first riding the Tour in recognition of all the doctors and nurses who helped save my life.
We’ve also been celebrating what we’ve achieved during that decade, through Professor Craddock’s work at the Centre for Clinical Haematology. The centre has come a long way since I was treated there and is now a state-of-the-art facility.”
Geoff believes his decision to invite former pro cyclist Lance Armstrong to ride stages 13 & 14 has also been vindicated.
Both London 2 Paris and Le Tour – One Day Ahead will be staged in 2016 and planning is already underway.
“We’re raised over £650,000 now and have set some really good foundations for next year and reaching that overall £2million target,” he added.
"London 2 Paris is only going to grow for Cure Leukaemia and Le Tour – One Day Ahead has gone worldwide.
We’ve had so many people enquire about next year’s event that we might need a double decker bus to fit the team in! Lance’s involvement has been central to that. It allowed us to put our message onto the world stage.
People are more aware of what we’re trying to do and it’s up to me now to build on the foundations and raise a lot more awareness and money over the next five or ten years.”
To sponsor Geoff, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/Geoff-Thomas-2015/
To register your interest for for Le Tour – One Day Ahead 2016 visit: http://beforethetour.com