CyclingBefore, her name was Robert Millar and she wore the polka dot jersey
Fourth in the Tour and best climber in 1984, the Scot, who changed his name and sex to become Philippa York, is working on this Big Loop for Australian television.
- Christian Maillard
Early 90s, during the Tour de Romandie, in Nendaz, just after the finish. The young journalist that I was still remembers very well. Robert Millar won. The mission: to collect his impressions. The champion, who had won three stages on the Grande Boucle – including the polka dot knit in 1984 – had not been pleasant that day. This outstanding climber didn’t really like hot questions, after a big effort, it was his obsession.
Today it has changed. At any point of view. The ex-Peugeot and Panasonic rider, who retired from sport in 1995, was an unhappy man, ill at ease, who suffered a lot in a body that was not his own. Since 2002, after a long period of transition (3 and a half years), her name is now Philippa York and she is… a journalist.
“When I started the treatment, I could stop at a certain time or continue. I went to the end and I was born a second time”, she revealed during her coming out, in 2017. “If I had been 20 today, I would have already started the process, but at the time (in 1978)that did not exist, I had to live with this suffering ”she then declared to the Parisian.
We met her in the press room in L’Alpe-d’Huez, where he came so many times when he was training before the Tour de France. “Suffice to say that these 21 laces, I know them well”, smiles this 63-year-old lady, who remembered this arrival in Nendaz and her rather dry answers that day. “Like Fignon, who was the same as me, it was the best way to then leave me alone!” Laughs the Scotswoman who lives peacefully in Weymouth, in the south of England.
Philippa, were there so many people on this climb of Alpe-d’Huez when you climbed it with your bike and a polka dot jersey on your shoulders?
Yes, and there was always a lot of pressure and excitement until the first corner, because for me, I had to be in front right away, otherwise after that, you wouldn’t recover. There were also a lot of people, but there were a lot less Britons than now. Cycling was less known in England. We were 3 or 4, today they are at least fifteen.
It was your first climb to L’Alpe-d’Huez in a car, which do you prefer?
I took longer in the car than on the bike! There were a lot of people, including people who had camped overnight, but it’s less crazy than I imagined.
And the Col du Granon, which the peloton climbed last Wednesday, were you also in the peloton in 1986, when the Tour last came here?
And I had cracked after only 4 kilometers. I had been struggling all the way to the top. It was the year Bernard Hinault also exploded and lost his jersey.
Do you have good memories of your 11 tours of France as a runner?
I had good and not so good moments on the Tour de France because it is obvious that you cannot be at the top over three weeks. There are days when you feel very good, when you can play for the stage victory, and others when I lacked oxygen in the passes and where I got hurt a lot.
Is it easier to cover the Tour de France as a journalist or on a bike?
It’s easier to do the stage in a car because when it’s too hot, you can turn on the air conditioning, and when the temperature is cooler, you turn on the heating. And if it rains, there are wipers, not on a bike. It’s a different stress even if it’s also in the last hour that you do your best to win the stage, write your article or make a commentary for the radio or TV.
Who are you working for on this Tour de France?
I’m on this Tour for SBS TV, which is Australian television. I do texts on the web, but I also have a program called “Bonjour le Tour”, which is broadcast the morning after the stage since there is a time difference of 7 to 8 hours. After Ben O’Connor’s retirement, I’m left with Mikael Matthews and Michael Storer.
And what do you talk about in your columns?
I’m not talking about rankings or gaps, these are analyses, what happened in the stage, why this rider broke down or another won. It’s just my feeling.
Would you have liked to be in this peloton today, with this heat and this speed?
With the material, it goes faster than before, it’s true, but the hierarchy is always respected. In all eras, if you are talented and you are in good health, you will be ahead.
Are you still driving, Philippa?
I ride for fun and to stay in good health, but I go slower, less far and I no longer climb passes. I am in my sixties now. People think I could ride like 30 years ago, but no, I’m soon to retire.
Jeannie Longo, who is your age, still competes in races, she…
Longo? But that’s not my problem. She was already special then. I’m not going to bother him.
Are you going to cover the women’s Tour de France for your media?
I do not know yet. If there is work for me, why not?
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