A bike may be an environmentally sound mode of transportation, but a great bike race is a different proposition. While some attempts have been made to offset the event’s carbon footprint in recent years, there is no escaping the sad fact that the Tour de France was not a wholly inappropriate target of peaceful environmental protests of the kind witnessed on Stage 10 in Megève.
The logistics of bringing in a rolling village of about 4,000 people around France made it so. As of last year, the ASO claims that 100% of carbon emissions produced by the Tour organization itself are offset, but those calculations do not take into account emissions from the staff, journalists, sponsors, corporate guests, fans and variety who follow the race over a three-week period.
In 2021, when QuickStep announced that they had become the first carbon-neutral team in the WorldTour, they published a sobering account of the emissions they needed to make up for during the season. It is estimated that 1,288 tons of CO2 produced by the team in a year is the equivalent of driving a car 179 times around the world or making 539 round trips between Brussels and New York.
Numbers like these were far from the minds of the guys chasing the stage victory of the breakaway on the road to Megève Tuesday noon, and it was understood that the riders on the move were more interested in the stop itself than the message behind it when they were speaking to reporters right after the finish.
Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) was alone at the head of the race with 37km remaining when he faced protesters from the ‘Dernière Renovation’ CWG, which had a similar display at the French Open earlier this year. The eight protesters sat on the road and released a torch as the race approached, and some wore T-shirts bearing the legend “We have 989 days left” in a call for urgent action on the climate crisis.
The Italian managed to get past the demonstrators, as was the group pursuing him behind him, but it was clear that the body of Peloton – not to mention the motorcade behind them – would not be able to pass safely. The commissioners soon decided to stop the race until the police had removed the demonstrators from the road. After a pause of 12 minutes or so, first Bettiol and then chasers were allowed to set off with their stores above the peloton intact.
“I saw them from afar, and I knew something was up. I managed to get through, but I knew the group wouldn’t be able to pass because there were quite a few of them and they were very determined,” said Pettiol, who added he was unaware it was a protest. for climate action. “These are things that happen, but they shouldn’t happen, because in the end we work and they can do it differently.”
Fred Wright (the Bahrain victor) was in the group chasing Petitol, and like the Italian, his first instinct was to squeeze through the gap and keep racing. “Your immediate reaction is, ‘Okay, I need to get through this as fast as I can,'” Wright said, ‘but you forgot that there are a lot of cars that also have to be overtaken.
Wright will continue to ride hard on Megève’s final climb in an effort to push teammate Luis Leon Sanchez to victory, though the spoils will eventually fall to Petitol’s companion Magnus Kurt. He explained, however, that the restart, which he had in mind taking a break in a training run, was difficult to address.
“It was like stopping at a coffee shop, same feeling,” Wright said. “I thought it was kind of a climate protest, and you almost instantly know it. They protest something good, but it’s not great when it’s at the front of the Tour de France.”
Wright’s calm acknowledgment and understanding of the larger issue contrasts with the woefully diminished view offered in France Télévisions’ post-stage analysis program Vélo Club, where the underlying reason the protesters were highlighting is not even mentioned – deliberately – highlighting.
“No way to talk about it, we’re here to talk about cycling,” Laurent Galbert said. And again, the Frenchman is no stranger to being reticent when faced with uncomfortable questions. “There are 10,000 reasons that can appear in the race,” he continued.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme made a brief appearance on the show, with presenter Laurent Louyat limited to one vague question about the layover, but then again, there was no discussion of the rationale behind it.
“It was so unexpected and untimely,” Prudhomme said. “It happened on the Tour de France roads because it could be the big soapbox.” “It happens sometimes, but we rarely get banned for a few minutes like that, and luckily the race was able to start over. It happened at Rolland Garros, it happened in Formula 1 at Silverstone, it happened in the German Football League, it happened. That’s again here today.”
There was a time when there seemed to be a tacit agreement between the Tor organization and the protesters who used the race to alert the public to their reasons. Race director Jacques Gaudette was, as the saying goes, France’s President of the Month for July. And so, as the Tour roamed around Lexagon, striking workers or protesting farmers would meet with the country’s temporary premiere, a trade-off would always emerge—the protesters’ grievances were given a public platform while the race continued largely unhindered.
This unspoken social contract appears to have collapsed 40 years ago, as journalist Dan Perez explained in to liberate earlier in the tour. In 1982, Usinor steelworkers protested the imminent closure of their factory in Dineen, and their blockade caused the tour stage to be canceled for the first time. In the four decades since the round’s ear closed to social protest like a fist. Watch, for example, that police used tear gas to break up a farmer protest in Aude in 2018.
Perez wrote of the 1982 cancellation: “It was as if this incident represented the first division of the workers’ and cycling paths, which had been intertwined for so long.” “The Tour will certainly still be free, available to the proletarians, but the athletes who rush out on the road on their bikes are starting to belong to them anymore.”
However, despite what the Vélo Club wants us to believe, the tour, which uses France itself as its plate, cannot pretend to exist in a vacuum. Television cameras that gladly show us the magnificent chateaux and vineyards of France must not deviate when faced with the fears of its citizens. Going forward, the team’s sponsors include automakers and petroleum nations, and there is clearly a lot of work to be done to offset the overall carbon footprint of the Tour and the sport as a whole.
Neilson Powless said when he arrived at the EF Education-EasyPost Post-Theater Buses. Fortunately, Galabert’s head-in-the-sand approach is not shared by everyone in contemporary Peloton.
“I think it would be impossible to quantify anything, but I’m all for cleaning up the environment and everyone is trying to do their part to offset their carbon footprint. I hope things get better in the next few years.”