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Francesca Selva with students in East London




Pedalling towards Success: How an Elite Cyclist Inspires Students to Embrace Riding

Hundreds of school children took a deep dive into the life of a professional cyclist to understand the physical and mental benefits of active travel.  

Italian track and road rider Francesca Selva visited Harris Academy Chobham, in Stratford, on Monday 13 November to speak about her journey from junior to elite, as well as the benefits of activity and using it to lead an enriching and diverse life and career. 

Francesca is a member of Team Torelli, a professional women’s cycling team, and she spoke to almost 250 Key Stage Three and Four pupils about the barriers to cycling and overcoming them - from watching her brother ride when she was young to competing in elite-level events herself, sacrifices and rewards, and how to overcome setbacks and injuries. 

The 24-year-old has just competed in the most high-profile event of her career to date, the UCI Track Champions League, which sends the best riders around Europe to compete in sprint and endurance events. Francesca rode in front of more than 5,500 spectators on the final night at the Lee Valley VeloPark, which is just a 10-minute walk from Harris Academy Chobham. 

Team Torelli were participants in the 2023 edition of the Ford RideLondon Classique. The venues for the 2024 race were announced recently, with the best female cyclists in the world returning to Essex and London for three days of racing between Friday 24 May and Sunday 26 May. 

The Classique culminates on the same day as the Ford RideLondon-Essex 100-mile sportive, as well as other mass participation rides which will see as many as 25,000 people get on their bike as part of the world’s biggest festival of cycling.  

Francesca, who signed Ford cycling prizes and posed for photos with the pupils, hopes some of the girls she spoke to at Harris Academy Chobham are also taking part next May. 

Francesca Selva said: “It was great to speak to the children and to see so many smiles, hear so many questions and see such interest in cycling. When I get on a bike I feel free and it opens us the world, you can feel the wind on your face and see the world in a different light. I hope these kids can experience the same thing. 

“Cycling can be mentally and physically challenging but so can many things. For example, I am very competitive but sometimes I cannot compete with the best of the best which is hard to accept. But there is a real friendship among the female riders, and we are all champions of each other. I have more European friends than Italian friends because of this job and it spreads such good will.  

“My message would be that it is never too late to get on your bike. If you don’t try it you’ll never know how much you might love it. If one person gets out on their bike this weekend, I’ll be happy with that!” 

A recent study found that men made almost three times as many cycling trips than women in 2022 and cycled, on average, more than three times the distance. London Marathon Events is committed to ensuring that girls have access to cycling and is working with Transport for London to inspire activity among all demographics, including teenage girls. 

Layla Hall, Schools Engagement Manager at London Marathon Events, said: “Francesca’s visit went down a storm and you could see the enthusiasm on the faces of the girls as they heard how she overcame adversity and committed to a dream that offers fulfilment and happiness. Not everyone can be an elite rider but everyone can enjoy the benefits of getting out on two wheels. Schools across London are committed to supporting more active travel and are supporting TfL’s Travel for Life school programme to create opportunities beyond the school gates. Long may it continue.” 

Joshua Avory, Associate Assistant Principal at Harris Academy Chobham, said: “It is really inspirational for the young people at the school to hear and speak to a professional female athlete who is driving aspiration, on the rise and enjoying what she does. The pupils were so engaged with Francesca’s story and journey. I hope they take what they have heard and use it in their lives, whether it be for a healthier lifestyle or just to give cycling a go. 

“We want to encourage active travel and make clear that cycling is an option open to them. This is allowing for more positive conversations with young people about how to live healthier lifestyles, which should always be championed.” 

Schools in London and Essex can also secure a limited number of reduced entry fee spots through London Marathon Events’ School and Community programme. For full information email Layla Hall, Schools Engagement Manager at London Marathon Events, at layla.hall@londonmarathonevents.co.uk