To go bikingPreviously her name was Robert Millar and she wore the polka dot jersey
The Scotsman, who finished fourth in the 1984 Tour and was the best climber and changed his name and gender to Philippa York, is working on this Big Loop for Australian television.
- Christian Maillard
In the early 90s, during the Tour de Romandie, in Nendaz, just after the finish. The young journalist I was remembers it very well. Robert Millar won. The mission: collect his impressions. The champion, who had won three stages on the Grande Boucle – including the 1984 Polka Dot Knit – hadn’t been comfortable that day. This outstanding climber didn’t like hot questions, after a great effort it was his obsession.
Today it has changed. From every point of view. The ex-Peugeot and Panasonic driver, who retired from the sport in 1995, was an unfortunate man, unwell and suffering greatly from a body that was not his. After a long transition period (three and a half years) she has been called Philippa York since 2002 and is… a journalist.
“When I started treatment, I could stop or continue at a certain point. I went to the end and was born a second time,” she revealed when she came out in 2017. “If I had turned 20 today, I would have started the process, but back then (1978)that didn’t exist, I had to live with this suffering, “she then explained to the Parisian.
We met her in the press room at L’Alpe-d’Huez, where he used to come so often while training ahead of the Tour de France. “Suffice it to say that these 21 laces, I know them well”, smiles this 63-year-old lady, who remembers this arrival in Nendaz and her rather dry answers that day. “Like Fignon, who was just like me, the best way was to leave me alone then!” laughs the Scot, who lives peacefully in Weymouth, southern England.
Philippa, were there so many people on that climb from Alpe-d’Huez when you climbed it with your bike and a polka dot jersey on your shoulders?
Yes, and up until the first corner there was always a lot of pressure and excitement because I had to be in front straight away, otherwise we wouldn’t recover afterwards. There were a lot of people there too, but a lot fewer Brits than now. Cycling was less well known in England. We were 3 or 4, today they are at least fifteen.
It was your first car trip to L’Alpe-d’Huez, which do you prefer?
It took me 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 that 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 fought my way to the top. It was the year that Bernard Hinault also blew up and lost his jersey.
As a runner, do you have fond memories of your 11 Tour of France?
I’ve had good and bad moments in the Tour de France because it’s obvious you can’t be at the top for more than three weeks. There are days when you feel very good, when you can play for the stage win, and others when I lost breath in the passes and I injured myself a lot.
Is it easier to cover the Tour de France as a journalist or on a bike?
It’s easier to complete the stage in a car because if it’s too hot you can turn on the air conditioning and if it’s cooler you turn on the heating. And if it rains, there are wipers, not on the bike. It’s a different kind of stress, even if you do your best in the last hour to win the stage, write your article, or make a commentary for radio or television.
Who are you working for on this Tour de France?
I’m on this tour for SBS TV, Australian television. I write texts on the internet, but I also have a program called “Bonjour le Tour” that airs the morning after the stage because there is a time difference of 7 to 8 hours. After Ben O’Connor retired, I stayed with Mikael Matthews and Michael Storer.
And what do you talk about in your columns?
I’m not talking about placements or gaps, these are analyzes of what happened on the stage, why this rider broke or someone else won. It’s just my feeling
Would you have liked to have been in this peloton today, in this heat and at this pace?
The material is faster than it used to be, but the hierarchy is always maintained. If you are talented and healthy, you will come out on top in all eras.
Are you still driving, Philippa?
I ride for fun and to stay healthy, but I ride slower, less far and don’t ride up passes anymore. I’m in my sixties now. People think I can drive like I did 30 years ago, but no, I’m retiring soon.
Jeannie Longo, who’s your age, still competes, she…
Lango? But that’s not my problem. She was something special even then. I won’t disturb him.
Will you 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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