Philippa York on her return to a public life in cycling

So here I am one year on from returning to having a public profile and it’s been an interesting time. It’s certainly been different to the years before, which isn’t a random happening as I’ve made a conscious decision to do some things I’d like and also some stuff which will challenge me both socially and professionally.

Like going to bike races and being visible – not that I was invisible previously when I went to the few that I did, it’s more a case of not avoiding certain situations and just talking to more people.

Then there’s having to be a journalist of sorts, which I don’t really consider myself to be, as that means, to me anyway, asking questions of people.

I haven’t done much of that yet, and it’s not something I’m quite comfortable with. Probably because I don’t want to ask a dumb question of the type that I used to get asked and suffer a withering look from my victim.

The return to being more open with who I am has been quite difficult at times – it’s certainly been way more emotional for me to process than I thought it would – so occasionally I’ve had to have a timeout from being interviewed and answering queries. 

Read: what a carry on – Philippa York on her new identity

The initial few things I did were quite tear-filled, sometimes during but mostly afterwards, when I had time to process how it affected me, especially if it was with people I had missed. 

The most daunting part has been public stuff, by which I mean being in front of an audience or a crowd of people. That’s a challenge, as it comes with the “I wonder what they’re thinking?” question that I know everyone has because, let’s face it, you don’t meet or know trans people very often.


I can understand the curiosity that people have, so getting through that uncomfortable first few moments had an effect on me that gradually built up to the point I needed a rest from media stuff during the winter months. I’m okay with it now but it taught me to take the time to reflect on how I feel about things.

The most uncomfortable moment has been when I was asked to write a letter to my younger self as part of a British Cycling Team talk day. That was a hard process to go through just because having two separate parts to my life, I had to make a decision which one to address.

Read: Induction days with British Cycling’s young hopeful

After many attempts at what to say, I settled on dealing with the cyclist and that was traumatic enough to read out in front of those attending. I got through it, just, so thanks to Chris Boardman for that idea, but it moved me on in coping with situations that came up next. 

Like being at the Tour de Romandie as a journo, asking dumb questions and generally interacting with the pro cycling world again.

Interviews were nervous affairs, but that was nothing compared to walking down the line of team buses with everyone standing around waiting for the race to finish. It felt like the walk of shame when you stagger home after the night before in the same clothes and everyone just knows what your business has been. Awkward.


One thing that the Switzerland trip did bring to the fore was how much racing I’ve forgotten about, highlighted by a conversation with Charly Mottet during which I asked him if he had ever won the Romandie. It was a reasonable thought on my part, as he had been world number one for a while, so the shocked look on his face when he replied he had indeed kind of troubled me.

Then he explained that the person who had finished second to him was none other than yours truly and I had won the stage that finished on top of the biggest mountain that they were going over in that edition. He insisted on asking numerous times if I remembered that year, 1990, and I couldn’t recall one moment, not one.

Gallery: Homage to Switzerland

I left him bemused and he returned to his friends who were discussing who, what and where about some race they had all done and what had happened. Then I realised there was no way they could forget all the details because they talked about them often. I was going to say too often, but then they have led a different life after racing to the one I have and that’s just the way it is.

Serialised extract from the article Women on Tour, first published in Rouleur 18.7


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