Days after having a setback at Ironman Wales in Tenby, former Welsh rugby star Alix Popham got back in the sporting saddle to take on an epic London to Lyon cycling challenge last month, to raise awareness of head trauma in sport.
Alix was just 40 when doctors diagnosed him with early onset dementia in 2020 - a consequence of probable CTE obtained during his career as an international rugby player.
He had won 33 caps for Wales, played in World Cups in 2003 and 2007, and was a 2008 Grand Slam winner.
On September 3, Alix took on Ironman Wales, but was forced to withdraw when he was kicked in the head during the start of the swim leg on Tenby’s North Beach causing concussion.
Just two weeks later, he was back on the bike to undertake 800km of cycling over 5 days!
Leaving from London Welsh Rugby Club at 1 pm on September 19, Alix spent five days cycling 800km to Lyon in time for the Australia v Wales match of the World Cup, held at OL Stadium, Lyon, on September 24.
As well as 45 other players and supporters, Alix rode the French portion of the journey with Welsh cyclist and 2018 Tour de France winner, Geraint Thomas.
Alix said: “The trip was extemely difficult at times. The ferry crossing was very rough so nobody got any sleep, so we ended up doing 300k with no sleep at all.
“Then the winds hit us, then torrential rain where you couldn't see the road, in parts it was like a river, but we just ploughed on and got through it.
“One day we had 35 punctures between the group - one person had seven in an hour which was tough going.”
Depsite these hurdles, Alix described the ride as an amazing experience, and says their goal – to raise awareness of head trauma in contact sports – was more than achieved.
He added: “When we arrived in Lyon we were in convoy in pairs behind the music and the support vehicles, stopping outside restaurants and pubs full of Welsh supporters cheering us on, and we had an amazing reception into the supporters village in Lyon.
“It was like the parting of the red sea, and we cycled into that which was really special.
“Before I left, I said that from the group of 45 people I knew 10, but by the end of it we would all be best friends and that was 100% the case.
“It was a group that worked very hard for each other and got there with a lot of memories to last a lifetime.”
Geraint Thomas was riding in the Vuelta a España before he joined Alix and the team. He shared on Twitter: “The idea of joining these bots for a few days and watching Wales in Lyon is getting me through the Vuelta.”
To top it off, Wales beat Australia 40 – 6 in the match at OL stadium, on the day of their arrival.
While these challenges are giving Alix a purpose and motivation post-diagnosis, he is also raising money to educate grassroots rugby clubs and schools on the risks of head trauma via the charity ‘Head for Change’.