Inspirational Yorkshire volunteer Val French has become the first Breeze Champion to lead 1,000 rides through the programme, supporting almost 5,000 women to experience the joy of cycling with her along the way.
Having been a Breeze Champion since the programme’s inception in 2011, this weekend Val led her 999th, 1,000th and 1,001st rides in Pocklington, Yorkshire. In that time, she has clocked up 18,100 miles – three quarters of the way around the world’s circumference – and despite various setbacks, she has no intention of hanging up her helmet anytime soon.
Val toasted her remarkable achievement with a glass of fizz and slice of cake on her 1,000th ride and has received congratulations from cycling royalty including Dame Laura Kenny for her unwavering passion and perseverance.
Breeze is British Cycling’s groundbreaking programme to get more women riding bikes for fun, friendship and fitness, and is supported by Sport England and The National Lottery. Launched in 2011 with the ambition of closing the gender gap in cycling, more than 350,000 women have attended more than 80,000 free bike rides in their community since its inception.
The programme’s success is owed to the network of more than 1,000 inspirational volunteer Breeze Champions across the country who put on rides week in, week out, and ensure that riders of all abilities feel welcomed, encouraged and supported.
Speaking shortly before her 1000th ride, Val said:
“When I started doing Breeze way back when, I never dreamt that I would be celebrating my 1,000th ride. This has been the most amazing and fantastic journey. As a retired PE teacher, I am passionate about encouraging girls to get into sport and keep fit and healthy. Breeze then gave me another passion to encourage more women to get back on their bikes.
“So many women have now benefitted from this amazing programme and groups have come and gone as they no longer need Breeze and have formed their own friendship cycling groups. My group, Pocklington and Barmby Belles, with the help of other Breeze Champions, is now huge. My highlight is when people say to me ‘Val you have changed my life’ - I haven't, they have changed their own lives, and Breeze facilitates that for them. There is no better tonic than being in the fresh air, in our beautiful countryside, seeing these women grow to love cycling as much as I do – and of course stopping for coffee, cake and a chat!
“As I celebrate this milestone, I want to pass on my thanks to British Cycling, especially the original British Cycling Breeze team of Natalie, Becki and Georgie for giving me this great opportunity. I intend to keep going until I drop! Thank you to everyone who has joined me on this amazing journey and long may it continue. Breeze – I love you!”
Val’s journey to 1,000 rides hasn’t always been a smooth one, with two replaced knees, two replaced shoulders and a snapped achilles all briefly standing in her way, but her determination to get out on her bike burns as bright as ever.
Britain’s most successful female Olympian, Dame Laura Kenny said:
“Leading 1,000 rides is such a fantastic achievement and I want to personally thank Val for all of her efforts, particularly for inspiring and helping women in Yorkshire get on their bikes and discover the joy of cycling. I first started cycling through my mum's fitness journey, and the fun and friendship element has given us both such invaluable experiences – the fact that Val has been able to provide that for so many women as well is just amazing.
"I hope Val will continue to support and inspire more women to discover the joy of cycling for many more years to come.”
British Cycling’s Interim Sport and Participation Director, Amy Gardner, said:
“This is such an incredible achievement and milestone for Val and for the Breeze programme, and we will never be able to thank her enough for the wonderful contribution she has made to cycling in Britain. Yorkshire is blessed with so many cycling legends, from Beryl Burton to Lizzie Deignan, and Val deserves to be recognised in the very highest order alongside them.
“Breeze simply couldn’t happen without our inspirational Breeze Champions. Their boundless energy, enthusiasm and commitment to getting more women on bikes has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of lives, and we want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them.”
Breeze offers fun, free, inclusive group bike rides for women of all abilities across the UK. If you’ve been inspired by Val’s journey, you can find a ride near you here.