Former England footballer Geoff Thomas has completed his latest fund-raising challenge: to ride the route of all three 2017 Grand Tours one day ahead of the professional riders.
Thomas, 53, was diagnosed with blood cancer leukaemia in 2003 and was given three months to live. However, not only did Thomas survive but he has gone on to help raise millions of pounds for leukaemia charities, including undertaking mammoth cycling challenges.
This year’s cycling challenge was his biggest yet, tackling 6,526 miles (10,504km) of the Giro d’Italia (May), Tour de France (July) and Vuelta a España (August/September) routes on a tight schedule in a ‘Three Tours Challenge’. The routes included over 66,000 metres (216,500 feet) of climbing.
Thomas admits that there were times during the gruelling marathon that he wondered whether he could continue, but found motivation in the cancer patients he had previously met and their life stories.
“It was gruelling, and I think even day three of the first tour [Giro] we were climbing Mount Entna and I though we had probably bitten off more that we though that was ahead of us,” Thomas told BBC Five Live. “But we survived.”
“I sat next to fellow patients far younger, that looked far fitter than me. There were were two or three people that came to mind when I was really struggling to get up some of the steep climbs, especially the last tour when I was really pulling on their strength.
“There was a 22-year-old girl who had just gone into remission then six weeks later I got a phone call from her father saying she’s relapsed and she’s not got long left. She still wanted to help me raise money, and I thought ‘if I can’t carry on, with people inspiring me like that, then more fool me’.
“I was thinking about her when I was more or less going two miles an hour up a climb and wanting to get off but I didn’t, and she helped me get up to the top.”
Thomas and his team of James Maltin, Doug McKinnon, Marcus Leach and Hayden Groves successfully completed their mission, and have so far raised over £40,000 for the Cure Leukaemia charity via their Just Giving page.
Thomas first rode the route of the Tour de France in 2005, when he completed it in 21 days. He was subsequently given the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2005 for this achievement.