The Tour de France will end on Sunday and while ex-Crystal Palace captain Geoff Thomas saw his latest endeavour to complete the 2,000-mile course conclude prematurely before the Alps, he is determined to cross the finish line at Champs-Elysees one more time.
The 57-year-old quit his sixth attempt at the gruelling 21-stage challenge after a week due to the pain in both knees, where he has grade four arthritis.
While disappointed not to finish the charity ride that runs a week before the professionals compete in the Tour de France, Thomas watched on from his Worcestershire home as The Tour 21 group he put together completed the job to raise close to £1million for Cure Leukaemia.
Thomas’ own fundraising efforts since he was diagnosed with the illness in 2003 saw him receive an MBE in March, with the millions generated by the one-time England midfielder playing a big part in different treatments being found.
But after contemplating putting the bike away for good, he now has a target in mind ahead of a milestone in 2024.
“Me personally, I am not giving up yet,” he told the PA news agency with a big grin.
“I said last year was my last time but we had a guy who committed to raising £100,000 this year if I did it with him. I fulfilled that by starting with him, I didn’t finish with him! But Mark (Palmer) is going to continue supporting us.
“When I got off the bike I thought no more but if I can get my knee sorted, I have a big number coming up. I don’t even think about age anymore but I am 60 in a couple of years’ time. In my mind, I am thinking maybe six and out, something like that.
“It might be my last one but I have been like Frank Sinatra really because ever since 2005 I have said ‘never again and this is my last one’ but I think I might have one more in me, maybe. We’ll see.”
When Thomas astonishingly cycled the Tour de France route in 21 days in 2005 a matter of months after being declared in remission, it saw him earn the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award.
He had been told two years earlier his chronic myeloid leukaemia diagnosis would give him around three more months to live but successful stem cell treatment – via sister Kay – coupled with bouts of radiotherapy and chemotherapy helped the former Crewe ace beat cancer.
Thomas set about paying back his consultant Professor Charlie Craddock afterwards with the peloton a surprise chosen method.
“I am immensely proud of where it has come from,” he insisted. “The (official UK charity) partnership with ASO itself, the Tour de France, is a credit to everyone involved and we have been recognised as a charity who put on a great event in the world of cycling.
“And for me there is no bigger challenge than Le Tour in any sport I don’t think.
“The event itself, 2005, was the first indication that I got some normality back in my life. The day going up the Col du Galibier I will never forget. It was like if I can do this, after going through two years of treatment and a stem cell transplant, then I have got my life back on track.
“There are so many people who go through a battle with cancer and it is not the end game. It can be a fresh start. For me it made me evaluate what is important in life and health is number one.”
Old club Palace helped Thomas on his road to recovery with “thousands” of messages being sent by fans to the skipper of the 1990 FA Cup runners-up.
Almost two decades later and it was the late Geoff Hill, an Eagles supporter, who inspired Thomas to get back on his bike again for this year and, had fate worked differently, he could have crossed the finish line and then swapped Paris for Perth to be part of Palace’s pre-season tour Down Under.
“Steve Parish phoned me to see if I could go as an ambassador,” the stalwart of 249 appearances revealed. “If I had stayed on the bike, I think two days after I would have gone to Australia and I don’t think that would have gone down well with the Mrs!
“But the status of Crystal Palace is growing and you only get invited to places like that if you have a team to watch.”
The Eagles helped with Thomas’ fundraising efforts this summer by donating their shirts from the 1-0 win over Watford in May to Cure Leukaemia with Wilfried Zaha’s match-worn jersey earning £1,129.
Thomas met the squad too and was left hugely impressed after a chat with boss Patrick Vieira, who guided the side to the FA Cup semi-finals and a 12th-place finish during his debut season.
Thomas added: “Patrick was such a nice bloke. He is a World Cup winner and you expect some type of ego, maybe you are tainted by others, but he was such a gentleman and a nice guy.
“Roy (Hodgson) put a stable foundation there for Patrick to come in and work with and the change of style, it is more appealing to the fans.
“The atmosphere down there is brilliant. I have not been to a ground that is so tight and so loud. I am sure it will get rocking again this year.”