Countdown’s Rachel Riley speaks to KAY TAYLOR about her plight to get more women into cycling, her new tech TV show, and learning moves from her dancer boyfriend
She’s known for her beauty and brains on top TV show Countdown, and now Rachel Riley is getting on her bike to encourage more women to cycle.
The presenter, who is also a favourite on ‘8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown’ and the Gadget Show, is gearing up to support a campaign by British Cycling to attract women to cycle for fun.
She’s signed up as an ambassador for the Breeze Challenge - the biggest programme ever to get more women into riding bikes.
“I think some women can be intimidated by cycling, especially on the roads,” she says. “The sport seems more geared to men for some reason, but they can be so competitive.
“When it’s an event just for women, we’ve all got similar bodies so we know our limits, and it’s a nice environment - we encourage each other.”
She adds: “Most people cycle as kids but then grow out of it.
“I started cycling properly when I moved to London as a way of commuting. It’s much quicker and easier than sitting, getting stressed in traffic.
“When I did the Gadget Show I tested a few bikes and it was great fun, so then I bought myself a hybrid.
“I like it because I get to see so much more of London than I would if I was driving, like little cafes and shops and chocolate box houses in the countryside.”
She also finds that cycling is a good way to fit in exercise around her busy schedule, which can see her working for full weeks and then having a week or two off.
This weekend, a Breeze Challenge consisting of 50km and 100km routes will take place in Lancaster.
“It’s to give the ladies more of a challenge, but it’s not a race,” Rachel says. “There will be old fashioned bikes to racers, and people of all ages.
“It’s something to aim and train for; at first 50km sounded like a million miles to me.”
Rachel also enjoys doing Zumba to keep fit, which she says is her main ‘dancing outlet’ these days.
She waltzed her way through Strictly Come Dancing in 2013, and went on to find love with her professional dancing partner from the show, Pasha Kovalev.
He too has gotten into cycling since meeting Rachel, and she is now trying to find her feet on the dance floor in return.
“We did some salsa on holiday,” she reveals. “He keeps promising me dance lessons.”
Speaking about her work, she admits she likes that “no week is ever the same” and spoke about a new project she is working on, which will air in the New Year.
“I don’t know what’s it’s going to be called yet, but it’s a science entertainment show for ITV,” she explains.
“I’ve always liked science and maths, and there are some amazing things you can do with technology these days, so it’s about having fun with all of that.”
Rachel will not be attending Lancaster’s Breeze cycling event, but local Breeze Champion Alison Torrence will be there.
Breeze is led by women, for women, and the programme is supported by a network of trained volunteers called Breeze Champions who organise local guided rides on a weekly basis.
Alison, from Walton-le-Dale, started as a participant of local rides before applying to be a leader.
Amazingly, she had never ventured out on two wheels until she was in her thirties.
“I never rode a bike as a child,” the 55-year-old says. “But my two sons had bikes and my husband and I decided to join in.
“I enjoy the exercise and I’ve made a lot of new friends by going out with the groups.”
She adds: “I think women tend to be more cautious about cars on the roads, and are more fearful about what might happen.
“But we give people a safe environment on quieter roads and paths, so they feel more comfortable.
“It’s also nice for women who might be generally very busy with their families to have a couple of hours to themselves each week to de-stress.
“I prefer going on group rides rather than going to somewhere like the gym to keep fit; it’s good to get some fresh air and have a chat.”
- The Breeze Challenge takes place from Lancaster University on Sunday. People can register on the day from 8am.
For more information, visit www.breezechallenge.com/lancashire.