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Former Wales rugby star cycles from London to Lyon to raise awareness of head trauma in contact sports

03 Oct 2023 3 minute read
Alex Popham with Geraint Thomas

Former Welsh rugby star Alix Popham, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2020, has cycled from London to Lyon to raise awareness of head trauma in contact sports.

Popham, who played 33 times for Wales, was just 40 when he received his diagnosis – a consequence of probable Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) obtained during his career as a rugby player.

Leaving from London Welsh Rugby Club at 1pm on Tuesday 19th September, Alix spent five days cycling 800km to Lyon in time for Wales’ World Cup match against Australia at the OL Stadium, Lyon, on 24th September.

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.


Popham said: “The trip was extremely 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.”

Former Wales rugby star Alix Popham cycled 800km

Popham described the ride as an amazing experience and says that they more than achieved their goal of raising awareness of head trauma in contact sports.

The former Newport and Scarlets player 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 X, formerly known as Twitter: “The idea of joining these bots for a few days and watching Wales in Lyon is getting me through the Vuelta.”

To cap off Popham’s trip, Wales beat Australia 40 – 6 on the day of their arrival.

Alix Popham and his team were raising awareness of head trauma in contact sports

While these challenges are giving Popham 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.

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