Former England, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest footballer, leukaemia survivor and Patron of blood cancer charity Cure Leukaemia Geoff Thomas, has announced he will ride the full Tour de France route one day ahead of the professionals for the last time in 2020 to mark 15 years since he was declared in remission from the disease.
Yesterday marked exactly 16 years since Geoff was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and told he had just three months to live. Luckily, he lived close to Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Cure Leukaemia’s co-founder Professor Charlie Craddock CBE. Under his care, Geoff was able to access the latest treatments for this form of blood cancer enabling him to undergo a life-saving stem cell transplant as his sister, Kay, was a perfect match.
Reflecting on this time he said: “I was so lucky. Had I not met Charlie (Professor Craddock), been able to receive the latest treatment for the disease and my sister not been a match I would not be here today. So many patients I met during that time didn’t make it and that’s why I have dedicated my life to giving back ever since.”
During his treatment Geoff drew inspiration and comfort from Lance Armstrong’s book ‘It’s Not About The Bike’ which detailed the American’s own battle with cancer. Geoff continued:
“It gave me hope that there could be a future for me and it’s the reason I took up cycling, and the rest is history!”
In 2005, just months after being declared in remission from blood cancer, Geoff defied the odds and first took on the full Tour de France route, one day ahead of the professionals.
“It was the start of a true love/hate relationship for me! It was incredibly tough but it was the memory of the patients who didn’t make it that drove me on. I made great friends during that challenge in the world of cycling, the likes of Matt Lawton, Neil Ashton, Matt Dickinson and Tom Cary and they have supported me ever since.”
Since then, Geoff has taken on cycling’s toughest challenge three more times to raise funds to support others and in 2020, 30 years after he captained Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final, he will ride over 3,400km, one day ahead of the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas with the aim of raising £1m for Cure Leukaemia.
He continued: “Yes this is it! I can’t keep doing these Grand Tour challenges and this feels like the right time. Cure Leukaemia recently announced its nationwide expansion thanks to the UK Charities of the Year partnership with Deutsche Bank. From January 2020, Cure Leukaemia will be funding specialist research nurses across the UK and the funds we raise from GT15 will connect so many more patients with the treatments I was lucky enough to receive 16 years ago.
“Our vision is to accelerate the global progress that is being made in the world of blood cancer and help find effective treatments for all forms of the disease within the next 15 years.”
To raise £1m for Cure Leukaemia, Geoff is looking for 14 amateur cyclists to join him for this ultimate experience next summer.
“I am looking for a team to join me for my last tour. It’s a year away so there is time for people to prepare for this experience. I’m not going to dress it up, it is tough, really tough but it is amazing what people can achieve when they have a focus and determination to succeed. There are no blockers here – young or old, male or female we would like to hear from you.”
Cyclists who are keen in joining Geoff should go to www.GT15.co.uk where they can register their interest. It costs £10,000 per rider to take part initially with a commitment to raise at least a further £20,000.
Geoff added: “It is vital that the fundraising is not forgotten about in this story – it’s why I took up cycling and it’s why I am going through the pain of another Tour. To finish my cycling career knowing that we have raised at least £1m for this fantastic charity would be so special to me.
“We would love a headline sponsor for the event to ensure more funds go to Cure Leukaemia and we would welcome conversations with interested businesses.
“It’s nice that next year will be 30 years since the FA Cup Final as well, bringing everything together in the same year. Perhaps our shirt sponsor from that year might be interested in being a part of this challenge?”