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Geoff Thomas explains latest effort to eradicate leukaemia

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Iconic former Crystal Palace captain Geoff Thomas received an MBE this year for his charitable work raising millions for Cure Leukaemia following his diagnosis with blood cancer. This year, he will ride the Tour de France for the sixth time despite having described his most recent as his final. Here, he explains why the loss of a friend and continuous progression changed his mind.

Geoff Thomas doesn’t notice the snow-capped mountains or rolling green hills surrounding him as he cycles through the Pyrenees and Alps. He sees only tarmac as his burning legs drive pedals round and round, taking him steadily closer to another gruelling day.

He wakes every morning on his Tour de France charity rides with hours of pain ahead of him, and regrets the time he spends away from home. But he knows it’s why his five fundraisers have raised so much, both in money and attention. “If you try to do a 10-mile walk, you’re not going to get any kudos,” he says.

After five tours, or over 10,000 miles, Thomas decided enough was enough. He’d raised millions of pounds for Cure Leukaemia and would have to further that in another way next time. He wouldn’t face the ride again.

Thomas lived under that impression for three months, until his friend and former colleague Geoff Hill lost his battle with leukaemia. Hill was an avid Palace supporter diagnosed just days after visiting Selhurst Park to watch Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge.

Coincidentally that day he spoke with Thomas, who was diagnosed with blood cancer himself in 2003. The pair had worked together during Thomas’ playing days and on the TV channel Setanta Sports. Hill made a near-recovery after two years, but in September 2021 passed away, survived by his wife Nat and children, Emily, Olivia, and Alfie.

His passing spurred Thomas into reversing his decision, and this summer the former Palace captain will look to raise another £1million by cycling the Tour de France route.

“I watched Geoff’s good luck message before the tour we did last year, and his message was: ‘You’re doing it for people like me.’

“He was a really nice guy, a good guy who wanted to help you. He was always asking about you and I found out it was the same with everybody… Everybody had so much respect for him and loved him.

“Meeting his family, going to his funeral and listening to how many people in the world of football and news respected him, I just wanted to do it again in his name.”

Hill’s family did their own fundraising for Cure Leukaemia, with his brother-in-law Lee and Lee’s brother-in-law Jordan raising over £30,000 by running the equivalent length from London to Paris.

While they were running Hill collected news stories about their efforts and collated them into a scrapbook. He intended to present his family with the book as congratulations, but never had the chance. Recently, Hill’s wife Nat asked Thomas to present it on Hill’s behalf. “It was very moving,” the former Palace captain says.

Thomas and Cure Leukaemia aim to create a world in which one day blood cancer never again creates those situations, that those diagnosed can fully recover and that people like Geoff Hill are not lost.

They’re making progress. The survival rate for leukaemia has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years, and the death rate dropped by 2% every year from 2009-2019.

Thomas is one of the four in 10 to make a full recovery. To increase that number the charity has pioneered the Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP), which can cut the time it takes to set up a clinical trial from two years to six months. They have unified centres across the country to increase access for blood cancer patients to potentially life-saving treatment.

“We want to take that chance out of the process of when you’re diagnosed with blood cancer,” Thomas says. “We want everybody to have the best and greatest treatment.

“We are delivering on something that isn’t a pipe dream. We believe we are going to help so many people with the skillset we’re funding, the clinical nurses, the professors and this infrastructure that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Cure Leukaemia.”

When Thomas began fundraising following his recovery, he set five years aside to do what he could. Now, roughly 18 years later, he has an MBE for charitable work and is approaching the £5million-mark for funds raised.

But he has continuously found reasons to continue, be it people like Hill or solutions like TAP.

“Every year we seem to be moving forward at such a pace, or something needs to be fulfilled. It’s very hard to walk away from something when you feel that success is around the corner. I don’t want to be on the bike in another 10 years or so, but maybe I’ll come up with another idea that gets attention.

“We believe we can eradicate this without people having to go through the pain, or having a family friend or a family member of themselves [affected]. We’d like to be doing the job without so many more people being touched by this illness.”

Donate to Geoff and support his sixth Tour de France by clicking here.

You can also support Cure Leukaemia by shopping the GT8 Range here.