Starting in late June, ex-international footballer and Leukaemia survivor Geoff Thomas MBE will undertake The Tour 21. Over the course of 21 days, Geoff will complete the route of cycling’s most arduous stage race – the Tour de France aboard his CustomColour Endurance SL Disc. We spoke to Geoff to find out what inspired him to take up this epic challenge.
Myself and the team at Ribble are incredibly proud to be a partner of The Tour 21, to support Geoff and his phenomenal awareness and fundraising mission.Andy Smallwood, Ribble CEO.
Just a year after retiring from professional football in 2003, Geoff was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Despite being given only a handful of months to live, he defied the odds to make a complete recovery. Ever since that fateful day, he has helped to raise awareness and much-needed funds for Cure Leukaemia through his charity work.
He turned to cycling as a way of thanking those that had a hand in saving his life. In 2005 he raised over £150,000 for Leukaemia Research, completing the route of all 21 stages of the 2005 Tour de France. An achievement that earned him the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award.
This year will mark Geoff’s sixth involvement in such a ride – one that he has vowed will be his last!
What is the Tour 21?
The Tour 21 will see a group of amateur riders take on the full route of cycling’s most gruelling stage race one week in advance of the professionals. The event rolls out on 24th June from Copenhagen before arriving in Paris 23 days and 3,328km later.
Now in its second year, The Tour 21 aims to raise well over £1m in funding with over £440,000 already raised by the team. All money raised is invested in the national Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) which has been solely funded by Cure Leukaemia since January 2020.
All with the aim of raising much-needed funds to continue research into the fight against Leukaemia. In 2021 the collective efforts of Geoff and his companions helped to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia.
Geoff will be completing the ride aboard this eyecatching CustomColour Endurance SL Disc. Complete with a light-defying Cyan D’Azur Flip design created through the CustomColour configurator in BikeBuilder, the bike is kitted out with high-end componentry that includes; Dura-Ace Di2, Zipp 303 wheels and a LEVEL 5 integrated cockpit to accentuate those completely clean, cable-free aesthetics.
You played football at the highest level. What was the highlight of your career?
Representing your country is hard to beat. After 9 Caps, not losing in an England shirt is something that I’m very proud of. At club level, it was beating Liverpool 4:3 in the FA Cup Semi-Final to get Crystal Palace to Wembley for their first time ever.
Football and cycling rarely go hand in hand. What led you to take up cycling?
A book landed on my doormat two days after being diagnosed with Leukaemia. It was Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s Not About The Bike”. Back then, in 2003, he was a positive example to anyone who was suffering from cancer. So when I went into remission in 2005, it was time to say thank you to the people who saved my life.
I tried to replicate what Lance was doing in America. Namely, raising awareness and money for the cause. From that point onwards, the bike became the focal point of bringing people on board, with the aim of funding lifesaving clinical trials.
How often do you cycle?
Never enough for the challenges we take on.
What would you say if you had to describe The Tour 21 to somebody in the street?
For people like myself taking on the challenge, it’s 3 weeks of brutality where you learn so much about yourself. Yes, it’s a physical challenge but equally a mental one. You become totally dependent on your team, both on and off the bike.
It gives you so much respect for the professionals who take this sport up as a profession.
How do you prepare and train for such a feat of human endurance?
You try and do enough to have a chance. There is a balance to be had. It’s all too easy to go too hard and burn out. My personal way of preparing is not allowing myself to think about it all of the time. I don’t even look at the stage profiles. All I know is that I have to get on the bike in the morning and get off it in the afternoon/evening/nighttime.
One thing that comes across from previous rides is the sheer determination to ride every inch of the route as the pros do. The camaraderie must be extraordinary?
It’s amazing !!! When I first started cycling, I didn’t realise the benefits of a group riding together. Of how important it is for the stronger riders to look after riders who are not feeling great on any given day. The bond that develops over the 3 weeks will last a lifetime.
You’ve already completed this event five times. Is there one that stands out above the others as your favourite?
First time in 2005 for sure. I was only six months into remission. Getting into Paris. It felt like I was back in control of my own destiny. For two years, my life was in the hands of others. Last year was pretty special as well. Arriving in Paris, knowing we were just short of our £1million target, and by the time we got off the bike, finding out that we’d gone past that was pretty emotional
You’ve conquered the Alps and the Pyrenees. Which has been your most arduous climb?
They are all tough for my flamingo legs! But the Galibier will be a day I will never forget. The temperature was 28° at the bottom and just 3° at the top. With hail, snow, wind, rain, the lot thrown in for good measure. It was like the mountain was saying “not today”.
You are completing the route of the world’s most demanding race. How do you recover after each stage?
I’d love to say in a bar! But in reality, it’s simply a matter of dragging your backside down to the hotel restaurant to eat!!!!! Then rehydrate and sleep – rinse and repeat, 21 times.
For more information about the 2022 event, including the profiles of the team riding, visit https://www.thetour21.co.uk/. You can donate to The Tour 21’s fundraising efforts here and applications are open for people interested in participating in this bucket list event in 2023, contact [email protected] to register your interest.
Introducing Ribble rchrge – the race team that hopes to make young riders’ dreams of making the pro peloton a reality. Check out their story here.
On the 5th of June 2022, Richard retraced the steps that his father took on the eve of D-Day and cycled the route that took his father to captivity. Read his captivating story here.