The 1951 Tour de France is notorious for being one of the most challenging routes in history — but Tom Neal from Saltash is a man up for that challenge.
Following in the footsteps of the professionals over 70 years ago, the 40-year-old father-of-two will take on the 3,000-mile ride across France, tackling 53,000 metres of climbing over 26 days in June, entirely solo and unsupported, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK.
Tom’s inspiration for the epic challenge is his father, John, who died after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011.
“I was backpacking in New Zealand and celebrating my recent marriage when I got a call out of the blue and was told my dad had advanced prostate cancer,” he said. “I came home straight away to be with dad. Seeing someone you love so much struggle like that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through.
“I know I’ll have some dark days on the bike, and it will very much be a mental battle at times, but I feel like past experiences, like losing my dad, have made me far more resilient.”
After losing his father, Tom moved to France and found solace on his bike, exploring the country on two wheels. His love of cycling and the French landscape inspired him to start planning for his epic adventure, emulating the riders who completed the Tour of 1951 — the year of his father’s birth.
Tom will set off from Metz on June 1, covering up to 200 miles a day, every day for 26 days. He’ll ride across the plains of northern France, through the Massif Central — the largest upland in the country — across the Pyrenees, through the Alps and north to Paris, where he will triumphantly cross the line at the Arc de Triomphe on June 26.
Friends will join him on a couple of the stages, and he’s secured the backing of three sponsors to aid him on his journey, but Tom will largely be taking on the thousands of metres of elevation and potentially treacherous conditions by himself.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I’m confident I’ll finish on time,” he said. “I’ve decided to do the ride solo and self-supported, even though it means I’ll have to carry all my own kit on the bike. I feel it’ll be less complicated that way and means I can go at my own pace without having to rely on anyone else”.
Tom, who hopes to raise £50,000 for Prostate Cancer UK, will be cheered on by his wife and family and has been training hard in the hills of Cornwall and Wales in preparation.
“I feel very lucky to have a chance at doing this, I’m just a 40-year-old carpenter and amateur cyclist, I’m far from being a professional athlete and this is the only shot I’ll have at being able to raise a decent amount of money for Prostate Cancer UK. I am so appreciative to have the full support of my family and friends,” he said. “They all know how much I want to do this, and I’d like to think my dad would be proud of what I’m doing.”
Nicola Tallett, director of fundraising and supporter engagement at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with one in eight getting diagnosed. We’re so grateful for the dedication of Tom, whose epic effort will help Prostate Cancer UK to fund life-saving research to stop this disease damaging the lives of men and their loved ones.
“Everyone who supports Prostate Cancer UK has their own story; some heart-breaking and others heart-warming, but all united with a common aim to see a world where men’s lives aren’t limited by prostate cancer. We thank Tom for going the extra mile – or 3,000 – and wish him all the best on his epic challenge. Bon chance!”
To support Tom, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/toms-tour-de-france-28310