Armstrong helps British cyclists fight cancer | AspenTimes.com

Armstrong helps British cyclists fight cancer

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
British soccer star and cancer fighter Geoff Thomas (right) stands with Lance Armstrong in Aspen as they prepare for a group ride.
Dale Strode / The Aspen Times |

One thing gets Lance Armstrong back on his road bike: The fight against cancer.

Armstrong, a part-time Aspen resident and former pro cyclist, is lending his support to the Geoff Thomas Foundation in Great Britain and its fundraising efforts to combat cancer.

“Lance got involved in my mind 12 years ago,” said former international soccer star Geoff Thomas, a cancer survivor after his playing days in England. “I was diagnosed back in 2003 … it was a form of leukemia and I was given three months to live.”

The soccer legend who earned nine appearances with England’s national team had been leveled by an unseen opponent just one year after his soccer retirement.

“I read Lance’s book, and it inspired me,” said Thomas, who battled for two years before his cancer went into remission.

With his recovery from leukemia and his profile as a well-known English footballer, Thomas said he felt at obligation to give back to the universal fight against cancer.

“I wanted to use (my recovery) for the good,” Thomas said. “It was about making a difference doing something apart from football.”

The Geoff Thomas Foundation was created.

“Ever since then, we’ve been doing events and cycling has been a part of that,” said Thomas, who was in Aspen this week with a group of 20 British cyclists on a special fundraising mission.

To celebrate 10 years of remission, Thomas decided to recreate a cycling fundraiser from 2005 at the 2015 Tour de France.

Thomas rode all 2,200 miles of the 2005 Tour de France — riding one day ahead of the racers — and raised more than $300,000 for leukemia research.

This year, Thomas is leading a group of 20 cyclists who will ride the Tour de France stages one day ahead of the racers.

The fundraising effort is called Le Tour — One Day Ahead 2015.

“Back in 2005, I did the whole tour,” Thomas said. “It was painful. It was a grind. But the euphoria of finishing felt like I had my life back again.”

All the while, Thomas said he remained inspired by Lance Armstrong, in spite of his fall from grace from competitive cycling after his seven Tour de France titles were stripped.

“I talked to Lance. It took about a year and a half to convince him that this would be a good thing to do,” Thomas said, knowing there would be repercussions from British media because of Armstrong’s checkered racing history.

“Back in the U.K., I knew what it would be like,” he said. “I had a couple of weeks of criticism. But that was from the people I expected.”

Thomas said he knew Armstrong would be a valuable ally in his foundation’s fight against cancer.

Armstrong, who started the Livestrong Foundation in the United States before his cycling fall, brings credibility to the cancer crusade, he said.

“A majority of people have been touched by cancer, and they see what Lance has done for the cancer community,” Thomas said as the group of cyclists gathered for a morning training ride from Aspen to Ruedi Reservoir and back — led by Lance Armstrong. “Having Lance involved is an added bonus for everybody.”

The cyclists, each of whom had to raise $100,000 for the cancer charity, are scheduled to ride the 2015 Tour de France stages after an extended training session in and around Aspen.

“I told Lance about the work we’re doing. He’s really taken an interest in it, and he’s 100 percent behind us,” said Thomas, who captained the Crystal Palace team to the FA Cup final in 1990. “He’s been fabulous.”

Armstrong will ride a couple of the 2015 Tour stages with the group in July.

“This is a chance for him to do what he does best,” Thomas said, “and that’s raise a helluva lot of money for a great cause.”

One other thing helped produce the broad smile on his face, Thomas said.

“It’s good to see Lance back on the bike and enjoying it.”

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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