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Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor
Geoff Thomas insists Lance Armstrong deserves his shot at redemption and believes he can help save lives.
The former England international wants the disgraced cyclist to be able to move on and start to repair his reputation.
He has invited Armstrong to join him on his charity ride for Cure Leukaemia as he races the Tour de France route 24 hours ahead of the main event next month.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2012 and confessed to doping in 2013, ending years of denials.
Brian Cookson, chairman of UCI, world cycling’s governing body, has criticised Armstrong’s return to France while Team Sky chief Sir David Brailsford also raised concerns.
Thomas was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 2003 and given three months to live, but has been in remission since 2005 after receiving a bone marrow transplant from sister Kay.
He is aiming to raise £1milllion by first cycling from London to Paris next week and then the main Tour route.
And now Armstrong is involved, Thomas reckons the time is right to allow him to move forward.
“The question is how long do you want to keep kicking him and stop him living his life? He has paid his price and in the future he’ll have to pay more, financially as well,” he told Press Association Sport.
“Hopefully the sport has moved on but the hypocrisy in sport at the moment, not just in cycling, is getting out of hand and it’s time we started looking at it in the clear light of day, start to move on and recognise there are problems all over the place.
“I don’t condone what he did. I look at the man as a cancer survivor who has raised 500million dollars for his charity and that’s what he wants to do in the future.
“If I can offer him a first step towards his road to redemption and he raises millions in the future I can’t see that doing any harm.”
During a training camp with Thomas in the United States this month Armstrong likened himself to Harry Potter villain Voldemort, saying he cannot be mentioned within cycling.
“I was there while the press conference was going on and it was fascinating. He knows he is seen as this figure people associate with that period of cycling,” said Thomas, who has already raised over £500,000 ahead of the ride.
“He took all the plaudits on the way up and he’s the one taking all the grief on the way down. He takes that on the chin but his frustration is the story doesn’t come out as a grown up conversation, it becomes a bit of a battle.
“It needs to be a group of people sat round the table, lay everything down and for it to be even televised. Then the truth is out there, black and white. There’s an awful lot more to this story than what’s being said at the moment.”
The dates when Armstrong will ride are yet to be confirmed but he is set to link up with Thomas for two stages.
Thomas has come in for criticism for his involvement with Armstrong, and understands why, but believes the publicity generated will only help Cure Leukaemia.
He said: “Everyone is human and it does get to you. You have to ignore it but it does leave a little bit of a bitter taste in your mouth. I spoke to enough people to know it’s the right thing to do.
“There’s no point being sidetracked by silly tittle-tattle on Twitter. Life is about opinions but I don’t want opinions stopping me trying to do good.
“Lance has had it for so many years now but for me it’s a new experience. I have split people’s ideas of what we’re trying to do.
“I keep coming back to the reason why we’re doing it.
“It’s gone worldwide and if we can keep the momentum going and the good news stories which can come off the back of this then it’ll be worth it.”
England Under-20 manager Aidy Boothroyd, ex-Palace team-mate Ian Wright and West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster are joining Thomas to cycle from London to Paris next week.
The former Wolves midfielder has been raising money for almost a decade having been treated by Professor Charlie Craddock, director of the blood and marrow transplant unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, and hopes to help Craddock eliminate blood cancer.
“He was seen as a maverick when I first started raising money. He really believes in 30 years blood cancer will be eradicated. In the UK alone 30,000 are diagnosed and, even in adults, half of them are passing away,” said the 50-year-old, who earned nine England caps.
“If we can get more funds into the system that 30 years becomes less and less. That means an awful lot, once you get touched by it you realise it could be someone else you love who gets diagnosed tomorrow.
“Football gave me a nice lifestyle but I came into it late, I was an apprentice electrician before that so I knew what proper work was all about.
“I was pampered but then you get diagnosed and I was told three months might be it and it puts you on a different track.
“You survive it and realise you are very fortunate. When I was battling the illness I met so many people who didn’t make it and those are the people I don’t forget.”
Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor