Over the next 21 days, 11 intrepid amateur cyclists will ride the entire 2015 Tour de France event one day ahead of the professionals, with the goal of raising £1m for Cure Leukaemia.
Many of these riders will be your friends, family, colleagues or perhaps journeys that you have followed over the past months. We will be sent daily updates from the ride itself that will be featured here each and every day - including rider interviews, progress reports and of course all of the fun and laughter on route!
Scroll down this page to see updates from the whole challenge.
Day 22 - Friday 24th July - Stage 20 - Modane Valfréjus to Alpe d'Huez 110.5km
9.30am - It's the day many have been waiting for. The Le Tour team met for breakfast at 8am this morning and today they are set to climb the iconic Alpe d'huez - good luck!!
9.45am - For Stephen Jones it is also a day of celebration as he turns 53 today. What a way to spend your birthday but save the party for tomorrow night in Paris!
THURSDAY, JULY 23 – Stage 19, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km
It is the day Le Tour – One Day Ahead crossed paths with the 2015 Tour de France – literally.
Our resilient riders were due to ascend the side of the mighty Col du Glandon they descended the previous day.
This meant LTODA’s route collided with the Tour’s, with the mountain’s roads due to be closed to the public before lunch to enable Chris Froome & Co safe passage.
With the Col du Glandon coming past the midway point of their climb-rich stage, Geoff Thomas & Co were forced to move their starting position to the foot of the mountain, otherwise they would have had no chance of beating the road-closure deadline and been prevented from completing the route.
Thankfully, everyone was up and over the summit in good time, although the team did have to show real patience in negotiating the heavy traffic and huge crowds gathering excitedly to cheer on the pros.
The weather was kinder to our riders on their return to Col du Glandon. The previous day’s thunderstorm seemed a world away as they pedalled onwards in calmer conditions to complete the hors categorie ascent to the 2,067km high Col de la Croix de Fed.
After lunch at picturesque Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves, where the cyclists enjoyed stunning views of the French Alps, there was plenty more work ahead.
They clambered up the Category Two-rated Col du Mollard before beginning the monster 18km ascent of La Toussuire, at an average 6.1 per cent gradient.
This Category One climb brought them to another mountain-top finish and the end of their penultimate stage in the Alps. Now for the iconic Alpe d’Huez…
FROM LTODA START: 3,140.3km
TO LTODA FINISH: 219.7km
Day 21 - Thursday 23rd July - Stage 19 - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne / La Toussuire to Les Sybelles 138km
9am - A massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the #5ForACure campaign yesterday. There were 676 donations, raising over £4,000 for the 'Le Tour - One Day Ahead' riders.
11am - The riders are on the road for yet another daunting day in the Alps. Fingers crossed they avoid the heavy thunder and lightning storms they have encountered over the past 2 days!
Day 20 - Wednesday 22nd July - Stage 18 - Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne 186.5km
9.30am - Today is an important and difficult day for the Le Tour team, please watch this short video below to see the highs and lows the team has gone through and Text CURE05 £5 to 70070.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 22 – Stage 18, Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 186.5km
I’m sure our riders expected to experience lots of different emotions and feelings during this superhuman, once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
Daunted? Yes. Exhausted? Obviously. But scared out of their wits? Probably not.
Yet that was the consensus of how our 11 riders felt as they negotiated their way down the treacherous, misty Col d’Allos descent in a thunder storm on Stage 17.
This blogger’s fear of heights meant the sheer drops had him cowering inside a warm van. But trying to get down those slim roads, with that oncoming traffic, in the rain, on a bike?
They must have been mad! Or hell-bent on completing this challenge to make good on donations, that have either been placed or pledged, which will give hope to blood cancer patients.
The start to the first of four climb-rich days in the Alps after a much-needed rest on Monday had begun under another hot sun, but the temperature was slightly cooler and the Alpine atmosphere more refreshing. As our riders tucked into lunch, the heavens opened, which made their climb up the 2,250km high Col d’Allos even more tricky.
After surviving the descent, which Doug McKinnon described as the scariest thing he’s ever done, the team pedalled up their final punishing climb of the day to finish at the Pra Loup ski resort.
It was more of the same on Wednesday, with the team experiencing four seasons in one day. This was to prove one of the most strength-sapping stages of the tour, with five tough categorised climbs in searing heat coming before a belated lunch stop in Allemont.
It was boiling even in the shade as they tucked into ‘steak frites’ but it felt more like winter a couple of hours later as they tackled the hors-categorie climb up the mighty Col du Glandon.
The team were greeted by another thunder and lightening storm and the temperature plummeted. So much so that some riders couldn’t feel their hands and feet, while others were shivering wrecks, by the time they’d made it down the other side.
So that’s two massive stages out of the way in the Alps, and two more to go.
Another psychological barrier was also overcome…our team have smashed the 3,000km barrier. But boy have they worked hard to get this far.
FROM LTODA START: 3,002.3km
TO LTODA FINISH: 357.7km
Day 19 - Tuesday 21st July - Stage 17 - Digne les Bains to Pra Loup 161km
9.40am - It's another sun-soaked day in the Alps and the Le Tour One Day Ahead team have already reached the top of their 1st of 5 category climbs today!
9.40am - Everyone at Cure Leukaemia would also like to join Geoff Thomas and the rest of the Le Tour team in wishing Hayden Groves a very Happy Birthday today!
14.00pm - The weather took a turn for the worse at the lunch stop today, however Ciaran Doran was delighted to see the change in weather - a reminder of being back home!
16:10pm - Watch out tomorrow for a very special video where we hope to use the power of social media to help the team towards their £1million target with just over 500km to go #5ForACure
Day 18 - Monday 20th July - Another very well earned rest!!
Day 17 - Sunday 19th July - Stage 16 - Bourg-de-Peage to Gap 201km
11.00am - The Team are out on the road for the second-longest stage of their unbelievable challenge. The heat is still extreme and the Alps are in sight...
9.40pm - John Simpson sums up another long day for Team Le Tour - One Day Ahead
Unbearable heat, epic climbs, a 138-mile stage featuring cobbles. The Tour de France route is enough to give even the pros sleepless nights.
The opposite applies to Trevor Clarke. He's more concerned about sleepless nights than any horrendous hors categorie ascent! Trevor's spent a lifetime devising, and defeating, superhuman challenges. But trying to negotiate the 2015 Tour de France route with as little as one-hour's kip a night is testing the Rugby resident to the max.
"If you have a really bad night's sleep after a hard stage, you're physically tired and the accumulative effect is the worst possible scenario for me," said the 49-year-old.
"I'm such a light sleeper I'm not getting the chance to recover. That's my biggest challenge.
"If I sleep well, I'm not worried about the riding. After all, we're only pedalling!
"Having said that, everyone's really looking forward to the rest day.
"With the heat, headwinds and driving rain, there have been some horrendously difficult days.
"There's another, smaller team doing the route a day ahead and five members packed up in one day because of the heat. That says it all, really."
Plonking Le Tour's second longest stage on the eve of a much-needed rest day meant Monday could not come quickly enough for our fatigued team.
Heading south-east towards the Alps, the team's trajectory for almost the entire day was uphill, with 'deux' Category Two climbs looming in the final third of the stage.
The 11-strong team are consuming around 100 litres of water a day and during another swelteringly hot ride, with temperatures touching the mid-30s, regular drink stops were required to refuel.
Moments into the stage's first Category Two climb, Geoff Thomas suffered only the team's second real puncture of the entire trip.
The skipper was soon back on his bike and in touch with the peloton, though, no doubt spurred on by the fact the lunch stop was at the top of the 9.1km Col de Cabre incline.
After lunch, the team cycled deeper and deeper into mountainous terrain. As they approached the outskirts of Gap, their destination for the evening, the foreboding final obstacle that stands between the team and Paris emerged on the horizon – The Alps.
But first they had to compete this stage. As luck would have it, their arrival at the final Category Two climb coincided with the hottest conditions of the day. But after one big final push of Week Two, the gruelling 8.9km trek up Col de Manse was complete and they were descending towards Gap.
The relief at the finish line was tangible, as the riders celebrated reaching the final rest day of their challenge.They will spend Monday in Gap. It's the Tour gateway to the Alps, so there will be no getting away from the four mountainous stages that lie in wait from Tuesday.
But the team know what lies ahead and why they're in the saddle, and will do everything in their power to reach Paris – regardless of sleep deprivation.
"For me, this whole event is about Cure Leukaemia," added Trevor, who lost his mum and a close friend to cancer.
"Sport and business really is just a game. The reward is success and money.
"What we're doing is raising money to help save lives. What is done with the money is what really makes the difference."
FROM LTODA START: 2,654.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 705.2km
Day 16 - Saturday 18th July - Stage 15 - Mende to Valence 183km
11pm - John Simpson blogs about a very eventful couple of days on Le Tour - One Day Ahead:
To say it’s been an eventful couple of days since the last blog would be akin to describing the desert-like temperatures our riders are having to endure as a little bit warm.
Some things didn’t change. Cycling the last three brutal stages in oppressive temperatures has been par for this 2015 Tour de France course.
It is difficult to put into words just how much effort these 11 incredible individuals are expending in the saddle each day.
Only seeing first-hand their sweat-soaked faces can truly portray how far they’re pushing themselves.
As it happens, there’s a very good chance you WILL have seen them pounding the pedals over the previous few days – via the camera lenses of the world’s media.
The awareness of Geoff Thomas and his team’s efforts to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia went through the roof when Lance Armstrong arrived on Thursday to ride stages 13 & 14.
The former pro cyclist’s plans to support Geoff’s fundraising drive had already earned global coverage before the Texan set foot on French soil.
So it was no surprise to see upwards of 75 journalists representing media outlets from across the planet swarm around the team bus as it parked up for the start of stage 13 just outside Muret.
Lance’s profile is global, yet that didn’t prevent paramedic Dale Wellington, who has played a pivotal role in the team’s progress, getting his name wrong. ‘Lawrence, can I have a photo please?’ asked Dale!
The strong media presence remained throughout both days, with reporters and cameramen tracking the long Le Tour – One Day Ahead convoy from start to finish.
Although Lance was obviously the main focus of attention, the likes of Dom Goggins, Melissa Brand, Trevor Clarke and Helen Russell were all invited to share their own experiences and discuss the lifesaving work of Cure Leukaemia.
Geoff made the smart decision to conduct all his media work in the shade. Who could blame him? This blogger wouldn’t sunbathe in such conditions, let alone try to cycle almost 200km stages featuring all manner of sadistic climbs!
It was on one such beast of a Stage 14 ascent – the nine km Category Two climb up Cote de Sauveterre – that Geoff succumbed to heat exhaustion, around 20km from the Mende finishing line.
In suffocating 42-degree heat, the inspirational leukaemia survivor had used up every ounce of energy his body could generate. Pushed to his limit? Nah. He’d gone way past that as he slumped into a support vehicle, underlining just how far he is prepared to extend himself to give more blood cancer patients access to potentially lifesaving treatment.
After Lance had bid an emotional farewell to Geoff and the team on the tour bus on Friday evening, the riders headed back to the hotel buoyed by his words of encouragement.
Now two-thirds of the way through the challenge, the start to Stage 15 in Mende for the 114-mile ride to Valence was much more low-key than the previous two days, but the collective fundraising mission, and determination to complete it, remained the same.
The riders enjoyed a novelty as they left behind some simply sublime Massif Central scenery and headed east towards the Alps.
‘Up’ has been the general direction of this challenge, but they had the luxury of a 35km descent en route to the day’s lunch stop in Labegude.
The respite didn’t last long. No sooner had the team polished off their ice cream dessert they were pounding the pedals up a Category Two, 7.9km climb with an average 5.8 per cent gradient.
Another tough day came to a close at teatime in Valence but there were smiles all round at the team hotel when pommes frites appeared on the menu for the second night running.
One Day Ahead is one day away from the one remaining rest day. Monday can’t come quickly enough. Then it’s just five stages to Paris.
But with the Alps on the horizon, it’s so near and yet so very, very far.
FROM LTODA START: 2,453.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 906.2km
Day 15 - Friday 17th July - Stage 14 - Rodez to Mende 178.5km
9.11am - Well, it was quite a day for the team yesterday. Huge media interest around the world for the cause and that's what this challenge is all about - raising vital funds for people battling blood cancer. Geoff was very busy, not only riding one of the longest stages but also speaking to media and reminding the public why this ride is taking place.
9.17am - The heat is really making life hard for the Team but they are powering on for the patients - they watched another video of messages from the Centre for Clinical Haematology this morning on route to the start.
9.21am - Messages of support keep flooding in for Geoff and the Team
Day 14 - Thursday 16th July - Muret to Rodez 198.5km
10.35am - Lots of press interest in the team this morning as they set off for another gruelling ride. The whole team are committed to completing the course for these people:
10.39am - Geoff's thoughts at the start of the day
10.40am - This is what the team has in store today
12.16pm - Great to see one of our Cure Leukaemia specialist research nurses tweeting her support today
Day 13 - Wednesday 15th July - Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille 195 km
11.28am - The team are currently on the road for Stage 12 - being described as many as one of THE toughest stages of Le Tour 2015. Good luck and we will see you at the first pit stop!
5pm - The riders reach another summit
7pm - Another brutal day completed for Geoff and the team - these guys really need your support!
7.15pm - Great feature on BBC Midlands today featuring Melissa Brand and the team you can watch the report from Dan Pallett here
8pm - Lance Armstrong has joined Geoff and the team to ride the next two stages of Le Tour - One Day Ahead to help raise vital funds for Cure Leukaemia.
Day 13 - Tuesday 14th July - Pau to Cauterets 188km
3.30pm - The Team are currently battling up six categorised climbs in the Pyrenees. It's brutal stuff! I'm sure the words of these people are at the front of their minds:
The Team watched this video before they set off on STAGE 10 yesterday - the money they are raising through Le Tour - One Day Ahead will directly help these people.
4.14pm - The team have reached the summit of the mighty Col du Tourmelet! But there's still work to do before Cauterets:
6pm - The Team have completed another gruelling day for Cure Leukaemia - well done everyone!
TUESDAY, JULY 14 – Stage 11, Pau–Cauterets, 188km
At the bottom of the descent between the two monster climbs on this hellish stage, there is a sign which reads ‘Pain’.
The small hoarding points would-be customers to a nearby pizzeria/patisserie.
You don’t need A-level French to know it translates as ‘bread’, but it is the English version of the word that describes what our heroic riders felt for much of the day. And lots of it!
No wonder Geoff Thomas branded the day ‘momentous’ as the exhausted skipper spoke to a BBC journalist at the team’s Lourdes hotel later that evening.
Scaling the 1,490m high giant that is Col d’Aspin – a category one climb - in sweltering conditions was punishing enough.
The ascent down the other side of the mountain is spectacular but before you know it, there’s that ‘Pain’ advert and you’re pounding your way up the iconic Col du Tourmalet.
Towering at 2,115m, it is nicknamed L’Incontournable, which means ‘the unavoidable'. There’s certainly no getting away from the anguish you’ll suffer conquering the most used high mountain in Tour de France history.
Before Geoff & Co could focus on these two huge climbs, they had to hop on the tour bus at 6.45am and be transported to the starting point in Pau.
They must have felt like they were taking two steps back to move one forward, as they had to cycle towards and past their Lourdes hotel as part of the route.
Basically, our riders had to pedal uphill all day. Steadily at first before a couple of category three climbs and a single category four made an appearance before lunch.
There was no slap-up, three-course meal today. It was baguettes, crisps, nuts, cakes and fruit in Izaux before the day’s real work began at 1pm.
There was simply no place to hide from the mountains, nor the searing sun.
And the sheer determination etched on the riders’ sweat-covered faces was truly inspiring as they cycled past jaw-dropping views to first conquer Col d’Aspin, and then the Col du Tourmalet, making its milestone 80th appearance on the Tour route.
Ciaran Doran described as ‘sadists’ the officials responsible for designing this stage. And it wasn’t over yet.
After another sublime ascent down the other side of the Tourmalet, there was still one more climb to conquer, the category three ascent to the finishing post at Cauterets.
Boy, did these guys deserve their post-ride ice-creams. Rumour has it Geoff scoffed three!
Maybe the fact the riders have now passed the halfway mark of their challenge, both in terms of stages and mileage, helped soothe some of the pain on the coach transfer to their final night in Lourdes.
But the effort expended in the saddle is taking its toll. The hard-working team of masseurs had to work late into the night to ensure the riders were in a fit state to go again on Wednesday.
FROM LTODA START: 1698.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 1,661.2km
Day 12 - Monday 13th July - Tarbes to La Pierre Saint Martin 167km
10.12am - After a well-earned rest the Team are back in the saddle for their first mountain stage! You'll see from the map below that they have made their way south near to the France/Spain border - the Pyrenees await these amazing people.
10.16am - To spur them all on the Team watch a video this morning featuring messages from some of patients and nurses they met a few weeks ago and Cure Leukaemia co-founder Professor Charlie Craddock.
10.23am - The route today has a very steep hill right at the end of the 167km - please send your messages of support through to the Team. Tweet @cureleukaemia or email firstname.lastname@example.org
10.53am - We are very fortunate to have Joolze Diamond taking some amazing photos of Le Tour - One Day Ahead. You can view the official album by clicking HERE.
12.55pm - Lunch stop in Mauleon
5.38pm - The team have completed the first of the gruelling mountain stages! Well done everyone:
MONDAY, JULY 13 – Stage Ten, Tarbes–La Pierre-Saint-Martin, 167km
“They have made us feel like nothing we ever do will be this important,” was Dom Goggins’ verdict.
To put this powerful message into context, we need to discuss one of life’s hardest challenges – keeping things in perspective. It’s pretty tough to achieve when our minds become preoccupied with everyday stresses and worries.
Trying to keep things on an even keel when you’re cycling an average of 99 punishing miles a day, and your body is screaming for a rest, is another matter entirely.
So the LTODA team could have been forgiven for worrying only about themselves as they began their coach transfer at 7.30am to the start of their first dreaded mountain stage.
To their immense credit, this bunch of remarkable riders have managed to stay focussed on just why they’re pedalling through the pain barrier each day.
And this admirable mindset was reinforced when they watched video messages of support – from doctors, nurses and patients they recently met and are helping leukaemia survivor Geoff Thomas raise £1million for – on the team bus’ big screen en route to Tarbes.
Keeping things in perspective, former England footballer Geoff aid: “Because of my experience, I can assure everyone what blood cancer patients are going through on hospital wards across the world is far more arduous than what we’re doing, no matter how tough it feels.
The messages gave the guys a fantastic lift, knowing that they’re doing something for a fantastic cause.”
Powerful. Inspiring. Emotional. Motivational. A flavour of the words used by the team to describe the messages and how they had made them feel.
So back to where we started: “The messages of support Cure Leukaemia sent over made us feel like nothing we ever do will be this important,” said Dom.
Over these three weeks, it’s our chance to show how much this great cause means to us.
My friend Stephen, who died from leukaemia 12 years ago, and the patients we met will be at the absolute forefront of our minds. It’s why we’re here.”
Reenergised from a much-needed rest day, the LTODA peloton began the first mountain stage at 8.30am.
They negotiated the plains of the Hautes-Pyrenees and two category four climbs before stopping for lunch at Mauleon at 12.15pm, with around 110km already behind them. After another category four ascent, they were on the cusp of the day’s main task – their first ‘hors categorie’ climb up over the Col de Labays and onto the Col du Soudet.
At this point, the support crew were split from the peloton for the first time of LTODA. With preparations gathering pace for the next day’s Tour de France arrival, and with so many fans already camped along the route, road blocks stopped all motorised vehicles accessing the torturous 15.3km, 7.4per cent average gradient climb to the finish.
However, our motorcycle outriders are well respected in France and the police granted them permission to ride with the cyclists to the top. Paramedic Dale Welllington and photographer Joolze Dymond were also given the green light.
The thousands of fans lining the route gave our cyclists a hero’s welcome, cheering and willing them to the top of this beast of a finish in yet more searing conditions. No doubt spurred on by the messages of support they watched in the morning, all 11 riders made it.
With so many more challenges to come, there were no over-the-top celebrations at the summit, just lots of tired faces savouring the moment of conquering their first mountain. Yet again, they had kept things in perspective.
To be reunited with the support crew, our team had to cycle back down the mountain, which means they covered around 20km more than the pros will on Tuesday!
They made the two-hour transfer back to Lourdes in the knowledge another barrier had been smashed. It is now less than 2,000km to the finale in Paris…
FROM LTODA START: 1,510.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 1,849.2km
Day 11 - Sunday 12th July - A VERY WELL EARNED REST DAY!
Day 10 - Saturday 11th July - STAGE 9 - Vannes to Plumelec 28km - Time Trial
9.55am - The team have already completed today's time trial and are now on a 10 hour transfer to Lourdes. Tomorrow is a very well deserved rest day. These remarkable people have cycled 834 miles for Cure Leukaemia - please spread the word and show your support HERE.
9.57am - The UK got behind Eddie Izzard on his marathon challenge, Davina McCall on her extreme challenge and David Walliams when he swum the channel. These people are doing something makes their efforts pail into comparison - please spread the word and help them raise vital funds for Cure Leukaemia.
SATURDAY, JULY 11 – Stage Nine, Vannes–Plumelec, 28km
What. A. Week.
As the saying goes, ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’. And there will be very little for this team of determined cyclists in Paradise, either. I’ll explain that one later.
Today’s final stage of week one, a 28km sojourn south in beautiful Brittany which will serve as a team time trial for the pros on Sunday, was wrapped up inside an hour.
But even this short stage had a sting in its tail –a 1.7km-long ascent to the finish with an average gradient of 6.2 per cent.
After the climb, Geoff and his team hopped on the coach to escape the blazing sun and begin the 12-hour-plus journey south to Lourdes – their base for this week’s daunting battle with the Pyrenees.
They get just one rest day on Sunday before the really tough work begins, so maybe the town’s famous healing waters could help sooth their aching limbs.
Having effectively changed hotel every night thus far, the LTODA team will have the luxury of staying in one place for four successive nights.
It’ll be hell in the mountains, but heaven in the foothills afterwards – they’ll be based on Lourdes’ Avenue du Paradis!
Exhausted from cycling, tired from travelling more than 700km south – a lie-in on Sunday morning will be like manner from heaven.
So that’s a wrap for week one. Cycling 834 miles in nine days? This blogger can barely remember driving that far in the same timeframe.
It’s been exhausting just to watch them turn the pedals in a bid to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia, so even this blog is having a rest day.
It’ll be back on Tuesday, to bring you full details of how this truly inspiring bunch of riders fared on the 167km stage from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, which features the first ‘hors categorie’ climb of the tour. In other words, it is so tough it is beyond categorisation.
They are still 1,253 miles away from reaching Paris, but they’re now over a third of the way there.
FROM LTODA START: 1,343.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 2,016.2km
Day 9 - Friday 10th July - STAGE 8 - Rennes to Mur-de-Bretagne 181.5km
Through the heat haze of this final, sweltering, ‘long’ stage of the week, one thing became even clearer – the French know we’re here. News of Geoff Thomas’ efforts to raise £1miliion for Cure Leukaemia by recruiting ten amateur cyclists to tackle the 2015 Tour de France route is spreading with each passing day.
Every wave and cheer of encouragement from locals, or fans of Le Tour camped out waiting for the pros to whizz through the following day, has put an added spring in the pedal of the peloton.
“A lot of people over here are aware of us and what we’re doing,” said former England footballer Geoff.
“They even know about Helen Russell’s crash on Day Two, which means people are watching what we’re doing through the media and on Twitter and Facebook.
“Everything’s been positive so far. People having been waving and looking closely at the team.
“We’re here to raise awareness of those diagnosed with blood cancer, and to raise money for doctors and nurses who can deliver hope to patients. That’s purely what this challenge is about.”
The LTODA riders were again greeted by clear skies as they rolled out of Rennes, the capital of Brittany, at 8.20am.
This would be the final slog of week one.
And the comforting thought of Saturday’s 28km ‘team time trial’ and Sunday’s rest day was added motivation to get this 113-miler done.
Unfortunately, around two hours in, Simon Gueller had a bee in his bonnet – literally!
Suffering a collapsed lung and broken ribs just three weeks before taking on this challenge of a lifetime was simply the worst of luck.
And fortune deserted Simon again when he was the rider an insect made, erm, a beeline for, getting trapped in his cycling helmet and leaving its sting.
But, true to form, Simon shrugged it off and simply got on with the ride.
“Simon deserves a hell of a lot of support,” said Geoff.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s a brave man and is showing true grit.”
With 105km behind them, lunch was taken at the picturesque medieval village of Moncontour, where a sumptuous three-course meal was served.
Temperatures had been rising all day and peaked in the thirties during the afternoon. Sun burn was becoming a real problem, with Dom Goggins and Hayden Groves suffering the most. Nevertheless, they pressed on towards the finish line with real purpose and attacked the final obstacle in their way – a category three climb up to Mur-de-Bretagne – with relish.
Their hard toil in the sun was over at around 4.40pm – when Dom revealed just how he and Doug McKinnon had overcome ‘The Wall of Bretagne’.
“We talked about the bar we’re going to open in the future, when we’ll serve good sherry!” quipped the 30-year-old.
After today’s efforts, it would be rude not to raise a glass in their honour.
FROM LTODA START: 1,315.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 2,044.2km
Day 8 - Thursday 9th July - STAGE 7 - Liverot to Fougeres 190.5km
9.33am - Well, they are back on the road and when you read the words of Stephen Jones from yesterday's testing conditions you realise what an amazing challenge these 11 cyclists are taking on.
9.43am - If you're inspired by what these amazing people are doing please show your support and donate to the cause HERE.
9.54am - Great to see a tweet of support from West Brom and England Goalkeeper Ben Foster who recently rode with Geoff from London 2 Paris for Cure Leukaemia:
4.27pm - The riders have finished another gruelling stage - well done Geoff, Doug, Hayden, Trevor, Helen, Melissa, Stephen, Simon, James, Ciaran and Dom!
THURSDAY, JULY 9 – Stage Seven, Livarot-Fougeres, 190.5km
Rarely have 11 people been so relieved to see a clear sky.
It was an even earlier start than usual, with the riders on the tour bus at 6.30am for the 90-minute transfer from their Le Havre hotel to Livarot, making its debut as a Tour de France stage town.
Geoff Thomas & Co were ready to roll out so early that local shops selling the ‘commune’s’ famous pungent cheese weren’t even open.
The relatively cloudless horizon was a sight for bleary eyes after driving winds and rain heightened the peloton’s toil in the saddle from hard to horrendous on Wednesday.
Today’s ride from Normandy to the scenic region of Brittany, where stages Eight and Nine will be held, kicked off with a category four climb.
Thankfully, that was the only classified ascent of the day and although the week’s exertions had clearly taken its toll on the riders, they reached the lunch stop inside four hours.
With Livarot already 112km behind, the team found a home from home at Le Famous Knight, a welcoming British-style pub in Couptrain. Today’s three-course meal was served by owner Jane, from Peterborough, and colleague Julie, from Portsmouth.
After dessert, two members of the peloton revealed a hidden talent. James Maltin jumped on the pub’s piano and revealed his classical music prowess. Next up was Dom Goggins, who entertained his co-riders with contemporary tunes. James and Hayden Groves provided vocals for American Pie.
Back on the bike, there was no shortage of effort during the afternoon session. But with the peloton becoming a more efficient unit day by day, they powered towards their Fougeres destination in impressive style. The cheers from locals as the LTODA convoy progresses around the Tour route seem to be getting more vocal every day.
And there was another musical treat awaiting them in La Chapelle-Janson. The small commune was already in party mode ahead of the Tour arriving on Friday, with a tannoy system blaring out Diana Ross’ ‘Upside Down’ as our riders cruised towards the finishing line.
After dismounting, they were treated to ice creams and reflected on the fact they are already a third of the way through their monumental challenge in aid of Cure Leukaemia, having cracked the 1,000km barrier in the process. Chapeau guys!
FROM LTODA START: 1,134.3km
TO LTODA FINISH: 2,225.7km
Day 7 - Wednesday 8th July - STAGE 6 - Abbeville - Le Havre 191.5km
9.25am - The Le Tour riders are off again - another testing day ahead
10.09am - Great to see one of our very own Cure Leukaemia nurses tweeting their support to Geoff and the Team - Kate Arthur is our specialist research nurse in Worcester.
10.19am - More great messages flooding in for the team, this time from England, Spurs, Everton, Barcelona legend and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker:
10.36am - Geoff's former teammate Mark Bright is tweeting again:
2.56pm - Sounds as though the weather has been challenging for the Team today - a well deserved lunch hopefully lifted spirits!
WEDNESDAY, JULY 8 – Stage Six, Abbeville-Le Havre, 191.5km
David Millar’s words of advice are ringing true for Stephen Jones.
Millar, who won four stages of the Tour de France during his pro cycling career, told the 52-year-old that attempting to ride the 2015 route in aid of Cure Leukaemia would be the biggest challenge of his life – by some distance.
And this wet and windswept sixth stage along France’s north coast pushed the 6ft 5in amateur cyclist to his absolute limit.
“I was lucky enough to spend a weekend riding with David in Girona some weeks ago,” said Stephen, who lives in Solihull.
“He said this would be the toughest thing I’ll ever do. I’m beginning to appreciate that now.
David said, whatever you do, don’t kill yourself in week one. For you, it’s not a race. If you are tired, get in the van and rest. For you, it is all about being able to get on the bike in week three, and when you roll into Paris.”
Wisely, Stephen heeded that advice when he reached his physical limit around 30km from the finish and clambered into a crew van.
Incredibly, he insisted on getting back on his bike around 10km from the finish and duly defeated another punishing finale.
“The main problem today was my height and build,” added the senior regional director at wealth management firm Brewin Dolphin.
“I’m a tall guy on a big bike, which means I’m more susceptible to head and crosswinds, which battered us today.
I was so tired I couldn’t even pick my water bottle out of its cage. I knew I had to stop.
My wife is very worried about the impact this may have on me physically.
I’m not the youngest person here, I’m carrying more weight than the others, and I’ve said from the outset if I find it too much I’ll get off my bike.
But this is all about raising money for Cure Leukaemia and I will ride as much of the route as I’m physically capable.”
Paris was still some 2,607.7km away when the LTODA peloton rolled out of Abbeville at 7.45am, heading South West along the Normandy coastline.
During the opening minutes, it felt like Le Tour - One Day Ahead was in a race with the Tour de France itself, as Geoff Thomas & Co shared the roads with Flechage van drivers putting out the iconic yellow and black signs (as modelled by James Maltin at the end of Stage Two) that mark the official route.
After three hours in the saddle, the first category four climb of the day reared its ugly brow in Dieppe. The cyclists couldn’t even enjoy the stunning views of the Channel and coastline on the ascent – as they were too focussed on the tarmac.
And it was only a matter of minutes before they were pedalling up a second category four climb.
After five successive hours on the bike, and 122km covered, the LTODA peloton stopped for a three-course lunch at Cany-Barville. The fact the Stage Six guide only categorises three climbs belies the strength-sapping nature of this 119-miler.
There are at least 13 challenging climbs – and the team were on the rise again within seconds of polishing off dessert. Further west, near the spectacular white cliffs of Etretat, another category four climb awaited.
After eight-and-a-half hours of pedal pounding, the last thing any of the riders needed was a 750m finale comprising a 7.6 per cent average gradient.
But they dug deep to clamber up past the finishing line at around 6pm.
Then it was recovery time. The hard-working team of masseurs – Sarah Gray, Damien Dufourd, Paul Johnson and Dean Goddard – set about easing aches and pains and managing niggles and previous injuries.
Paramedic Dale Wellington has also been busy this week. As well treating injuries from two crashes on stages Two and Five, he has been remedying blisters, pressure sores and nausea.
It really is the challenge of a lifetime for Stephen - and his co-riders. And there is much, much worse to come. Just take a look at the mountain stages! But it’s all for an amazing, pressing cause. And they’re determined to reach Paris.
FROM LTODA START: 943.8km
TO LTODA FINISH: 2,416.2km
Day 6 - Tuesday 7th July - STAGE 5 - Arras - Amiens 189.5km
10.52am - The Le Tour team are currently riding through the battlefields of the Somme en route to the historic city of Amiens.
11.00am - There are some fantastic photos being taken from Le Tour - One Day Ahead. Many thanks to David West and John Simpson for these:
11.05am - Tweets of support for Geoff and the Team continue to pop up - here's one from ITV Sport's Ned Boulting:
11.18am - Geoff is well over halfway towards his £1million fundraising target for Cure Leukaemia. Please show your support - click HERE to access his JustGiving page.
11.20am - It looks like a famous face has shown his support below:
5.18pm - Stage 5 is complete and spirits appear high after another 189.5km!
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Cure Leukaemia's £1m Centre Appeal 2017