Lighthouses in lockdown: A look at the private lives of female pro cyclists

by CyclingTips


Through 2019 and 2020, Italian photographers Eloise Mavian and Francesco Rachello – who together are the Tornanti.cc photo agency – have worked with riders in the women’s professional peloton on a series of intimate photos showcasing their personal ‘Lighthouse’. When coronavirus lockdowns forced the riders into self-isolation, Tornanti.cc undertook a follow-up project, shot over video call, showing the riders with their ‘Lockdown Lighthouse’.

Here are the two photo-series, with commentary from Eloise and Francesco.


“We created two projects that look at women’s cycling through a new perspective, aiming to show a more intimate side of the riders, as it’s often too easy to forget that they are more than just athletes.

Even if pro cyclists are doing what they love for a living and their team becomes like a family, being far from home most of the time can definitely be challenging. Last year we portrayed four riders with a special object that they always keep with them during their racing trips: something that reminds them of home, or of somebody, or that simply makes them feel good. This project is called “Lighthouse” as it is vital to have something to steer for when winds are howling and waves are crashing.

The lighthouse is visible in all weather conditions, guiding sailors to find the light and survive in rough seas. When the COVID-19 lockdown period started we felt the need to adapt the project to the new situation, so we created the “Lockdown Lighthouse” project. A variation of the original project, we asked seven riders what was their most important thing during these times. They sent us some pictures of their houses for our “scouting” and we scheduled a video call. These photographs are screenshots taken during these calls: in order to create the shot we wanted we gave the riders directions about how to pose and to position their smartphones. This peculiar interaction with the cyclists allowed us to enter into their own private spaces and, for a brief time, freed both us and them from the lockdown.”

Lighthouse stories, 2019

Christine Majerus (Luxembourg), Boels Cycling Team

We met Christine Majerus for her portrait during the Emakumeen Euskal Bira stage race in the Basque Country, Spain. As the stages usually start in the afternoon, Christine had some free time in the morning so we went to the hotel where she was staying with her team.

Christine told us about the importance of her two notebooks that she always brings with her. In one she writes the posts for her blog, in the other one she draws. In the latter Christine gives wings to her imagination and her state of mind, drawing everything she feels and sees on paper. Her drawings vary widely, from the landscapes she sees from hotel windows, to the burning Notre Dame of Paris. The illustration that grabbed our attention and that we chose to photograph is about the sadness she felt packing after a training camp was over.

Dogs are a constant in Christine’s drawings. They represent her old dog, King Rigi – an English Cocker Spaniel from Switzerland raised in Luxembourg. He died in November 2018, and to cope with her grief she started knitting a lot of bobble hats. She gifted some of them to her teammates and sold the others. The money went to the ASA Honn Foundation, helping to finance care-dogs that are going to work with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Leah Kirchmann (Canada), Team Sunweb

On a hot July morning we met Leah Kirchmann in the mountains of Valtellina. It was the day of the individual time trial Giro Rosa stage. For the occasion she wore her new ITT national champion kit that she had won a few weeks earlier.

Sometimes it’s difficult for Leah to stay away from home for a long time: she feels the vast distance and the large timezone gaps.

Her mother gave her a beautiful necklace that Leah always wears during races. It makes her feel closer to her beloved family and to Canada. The necklace has a pendant representing a maple leaf, the symbol of her country which is also printed on her cycling kit.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Trek-Segafredo

We met Elisa Longo Borghini in September in an unusual location in the Netherlands. It was the morning of the Boels Ladies Tour prologue and we were at the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park.

In the periods she spends far from home and during races, Elisa always wears a necklace, a gift from her mother. The pendant represents the five circles of the Olympics. In 2016 Elisa won the bronze medal in the Rio de Janeiro women’s road cycling race. This was a proud personal and professional achievement, worthy of remembering everyday.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa), CCC Liv

When we contacted Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio she was very happy to be part of the project, but the first thing she told us was that she is not a sentimental person, and doesn’t really have a particular object that reminds her of her home or of somebody. For us this was not a problem as the aim of these photographs is to portray anything that is very significant to the riders, not necessarily a keepsake.

We met her in a hotel room the morning before the first stage of the Boels Ladies Tour, near Eindhoven. There, we discovered that Ashleigh always travels with a pillow that makes her feel more comfortable. She found it on an airplane during one of her trips and since she used it for the first time, she has never separated from it. Ashleigh has injured her collarbone several times – she even needed surgery because of this – and it can hurt at night. This pillow is small enough to fit in her luggage and has the perfect size and shape for her body: every night she embraces it so she can sleep peacefully.

Lockdown Lighthouses, 2020

Christine Majerus (Luxembourg), Boels Cycling Team

Christine Majerus lives in a nice house in France. Luckily enough she has a big garden with an area dedicated to her turbo trainer. During the lockdown she trained on it every day, rain or shine.

During that period what made her happy was being able to see the flowers and plants of the garden grow. This was a ‘show’ from nature that she normally can’t enjoy because of her long and frequent trips away from home.

Leah Kirchmann (Canada), Team Sunweb

Leah Kirchmann has various interests, among which cooking is the easiest to pursue while stuck at home. Her interest in food and cooking began when she was very young: she used to help her parents and grandmother in the kitchen. Leah has always had a strong interest in the role of nutrition in performance and wellbeing, so it comes naturally for her to cook delicious recipes that are based on the principles of good nutrition. During these times of social distancing she had the opportunity to spend more time experimenting in the kitchen. This freedom to create helped her to relax and de-stress through the uncertainty.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa), CCC Liv

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio lives in a spectacular 17th century estate in Spain. During the quarantine she trained virtually a lot with her teammates and took the start in several Zwift races.

What made her happier in these uncertain times was being able to spend lots of time with her two dogs Luna and Mila. Both dogs are Spanish; Luna is 10 months old while Mila, the Beagle sitting with her on the wall, is two and a half years old. They were a gift from Ashleigh to her parents when they moved to Spain.

Luna is a Spaniel, a type of dog that is not very common in Spain. Ashleigh spent several months looking online before finding Luna at a breeder in Lleida. Ashleigh and Carl, her husband, drove two hours to pick her up.

Elena Cecchini (Italy), Canyon-SRAM

Elena Cecchini welcomed us into her home in Friuli, Italy. This period of isolation has been quite intense for her as, in addition to training regularly alone at home and virtually with her team, she continued her studies. This keeps Elena very busy; in fact, one of the objects she’s most inseparable from right now is a notebook that she uses daily.

Elena is also a great art lover and it came naturally for her to decide to take advantage of this period in order to start painting with tempera. One of the joys of this activity lies in sharing it with her boyfriend Elia Viviani – in fact, it is Elia himself who begins a painting by preparing the sketch. He then passes it off to Elena who frees her creativity by painting everything.

During a period of long isolation the bond between a couple is very important. The fact that both Elena and Elia share this activity is a very powerful thing for them, and to be able to dedicate some time to drawing together helps them to stay away for a while from their smartphones, to regain some distance from contemporary issues and simply to relax.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Trek-Segafredo

Elisa Longo Borghini kindly hosted us virtually at her place twice: the first time the light did not do justice to the magnificent mountains you can see from her terrace. We portrayed her together with her beloved stuffed animal, Wolfie.

When Elisa was leaving for the Rio Olympics, her boyfriend surprised her at the airport, like in the movies, to give her Wolfie. In a sense she believes it looks very much like him because of the blue eyes and matted hair.

Elisa and her boyfriend do not live together, so Wolfie was especially important during this isolation period. It’s something she always keeps with her, even during the long trips away from home.

One of the things to which Elisa became more attached during the lockdown is her e-book. She’s using it more than usual as reading helps to free her mind and to explore new worlds. Elisa likes to read every kind of book, but she is particularly fond of thriller stories.

Juliette Labous (France), Team Sunweb

Juliette Labous lives in France in a lovely house with a wooden interior. We met virtually on the first day she was allowed to ride outside. It was a gloomy day but she was going to go out to have fun with her mountain bike anyway.

Juliette loves cooking and yoga. Both activities have been important during the lockdown weeks, but what helped her the most is seeing every day the bottle of champagne she won on the third stage of the 2019 Giro Rosa. It’s a great source of motivation and of memories. She perfectly remembers the sensations she felt on that hard stage, the big crowds on the finish line and the last, very hard meters of cobblestones. In that stage she conquered the white jersey of best young cyclist, an important career milestone. This bottle also reminds her of her first World Tour success during the Giro Rosa a year earlier when, together with her teammates, she won the first stage, a team time trial.

Skylar Schneider (USA), Boels Cycling Team

Skylar Schneider lives in the United States in a big house with her family. She spends time continuing her studies and once a week she meets her team on Zwift. She is also continuing to train solo, but she reckons it’s not that easy to find the usual strong motivation without a certain calendar.

In isolation, Skylar discovered her love for two Dutch ovens she uses for making bread. In the beginning she was preparing up to 10 loaves per week for her family, but soon the word spread so relatives and friends started to “order” 25 loaves or more. Skyler began to give vent to her culinary creativity, trying new recipes every week, like cranberry walnut bread or jalapeño cheese bread.

Cooking for Skylar has always been a way of showing gratitude and care for her loved ones. Being able to cook for other people during this time feels like a very positive activity for herself but also for others; it’s a way to be close to people in a time when you can’t do it as usual.

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