We were swamped by entries that inspired us in dozens of different ways. Thank you for spending so much time and effort. You inspired us time and again. We deliberated long and hard.

Eventually we couldn't help but keep coming back to an entry who shone, both through the clever angle she took and through her beautiful turn of phrase. A deserving winner and a deserving recipient of our £50 voucher.

 

WINNER: Michelle McKinney

Why am I here?

This was not the first time I had asked myself this question, though perhaps the first time on the  ascent of a wild mountain in Co. Wicklow (failing relationships and career mismatches being more the domain of kitchen tables and open plan offices).

Why exactly am I two hours from home, having left the house in near darkness, at an hour early enough to make even the chirpiest early bird grimace in distaste?

Why am I here, with my ‘waterproof’ jacket long ago tested beyond endurance,  my shoe covers sitting uselessly at home, while my sodden socks and shoes weigh like concrete on my feet?

I am fulfilling an inner drive and ambition that lay dormant for long, too long, undiscovered and undisturbed by tag rugby with colleagues, 5k fun runs and erratic gym attendance.

I am surprising myself with what I am capable of, enduring for hours through the hills, the rain, the punctures, the hunger.

I am emulating my heroes, who are as rugged and changeable as the terrain - Armistead on the climbs, Boonen on the unfinished country roads, and always, always Marianne Vos.

I am taking another step towards achieving my latest ambition, be it a new route, training for the next sportive, or the omnipresent Queen of the Mountain titles.

I am justifying the latest in a series of increasingly expensive purchases. That first racer for 50 quid seemed like a bargain at the time, but the ad didn’t mention the appetite for ever more painstakingly designed chamois pads and breathable socks that came with it.

I am showing the boys that women are just as hard as they.

I am continuing in a history of cycling untold by Tour de France winners and podium girls. I am honoring the bicycle as a universal liberator. With each turn of the cranks, I celebrate the women to whom the bicycle granted independence, mobility and the non-trivial right to wear trousers.

I am experiencing the landscape in a way unknowable to the sympathetic onlookers in their heated vehicles. On days like today, the elements and the terrain claim me as their victim. The wind bites my ears, the rain sluices down my back and the mud stains my shins. This is the tithe I pay for the evening spins in unspoilt sun, the views uncropped by a car dashboard,  the tailwinds that carry me home.

Why am I here?

I ask myself this again as I finally reach the corner that marks the turn towards home. There is still another hour and a half of riding ahead of me. My hands struggle to change gears, my teeth chatter, my legs mewl in self-pity.

I am here because there is nowhere else I would choose to be. I am here because I am a cycliste femme.