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Riding Through the Storm by Geoff Thomas

Release date: 18th June, 2007
Publisher: Orion Publishing

List Price: £16.99
Our Price: £10.19
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Riding Through the Storm
By Geoff Thomas
Orion Books price: £10.40 saving £6.10 on rrp

A couple of days after the Tour de France made its incongruous central London start a fortnight ago, an altogether smaller gathering of seven riders headed off in the same direction, en route to Canterbury. From afar, they resembled a group of ageing buddies who, quite possibly over too many beers, had earlier agreed to emulate the professional riders and make the 140-odd mile journey to the south coast.

On closer observation, however, it became apparent that several of these late starters were, in fact, ex-professional athletes themselves. Was that Ian Wright, TV presenter and one-time Arsenal striker and isn't that the guy who used to play for Crystal Palace? What's his name? Geoff Thomas - whatever happened to him?

In his previous life, Geoff Thomas was a rugged midfielder, one good enough to play nine times for his country. A naturally fit man, Thomas augmented his professional football outings with occasional tennis games against friends, and it was when playing tennis while on holiday in 2003 that he noticed how difficult it was to finish the match.

Dismissing his sluggishness as a pulled muscle, Thomas thought nothing of it, but the pain persisted and eventually, persuaded by his wife, he agreed to visit his doctor. His diagnosis was shocking; just two months after playing tennis in Mallorca, Geoff Thomas, former international footballer, was told he had leukaemia. Suddenly, he was fighting for his life.

A fortnight ago, Thomas set out once more to retrace the Tour de France with six colleagues, trekking across the 2,218 miles of this year's route, a journey he last made in 2005, still in remission from chronic myeloid leukaemia, and raising more than £150,000 to fight the disease.

Many of us have become slightly immune to tales of extreme courage, but Geoff Thomas's Riding Through the Storm, his story of that journey, brings a lump to the throat. Thomas set out to prove to himself that he had the willpower to pull through and defeat the pernicious disease, but the pain associated with his trip is constantly evident.

At several stages in vertiginous Alpine or Pyrenean settings, Thomas pleaded with his teammates not to leave him behind as he had difficulty turning the pedals. On other occasions, cast temporarily adrift from his co-riders, he endured unimaginable suffering just to keep the pedals moving, every slow turn of his wheels a figurative blow against cancer.

What is it that keeps Thomas going? It is clear that the man has a huge appetite for life and is in no hurry for it to end anytime soon, but his thoughts are with others as he encounters the Tour's most harrowing points. At one stage, he describes how he could barely see the road in front of him and inwardly, he knows there are "a million reasons" why he could stop, but he insists that he will never give in. On another, while several miles short of a mountain pass, the Galibier, such was the cold and snow that he was on the brink of hypothermia. Yet Thomas cycled on, eventually finishing the Tour's course in 21 days, a remarkable feat for a man who had barely cycled before.

This is not a text laden with descriptions of beautiful views and fine French food - it concerns the truly colossal efforts of one man who refuses to be beaten, an inspirational tale which may even prompt readers to get on their bikes and raise money for leukaemia research themselves.

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