By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Climate activists stopped stage 10 of the Tour de France Tuesday.
Italian rider Alberto Bettiol of the EF Education-EasyPost team was alone at the front of the pack leading a breakaway when he was forced to weave his way through eight protestors from the ‘Dernière Renovation’ climate action group, who sat in the road and set off a flare when he approached.
Race organizers soon realized that the rest of the peloton, not to mention all the accompanying vehicles ferrying support teams, race organizers, media, police, medical, and other security services, would not be able to pass safely. So they stopped the race until the road could be cleared.
The same group had also protested at the French Open earlier this year.
What exactly is the environmenetal impact of the Tourde France. On the one hand, the Tour reaches a worldwide audience, and is a force for celebrating cycling – and may inspire some if not many to get on their bikes, the most environmentally-friendly form of transportation.
On the other hand, the Tour itself generates massive amounts of carbon, from vehicles that support riders and their teams,to vehicles for race officials, gendarmes, the media, and countless others. That’s not to mention the legions who show up to cheer on the riders, many of whom arrive in their own cars, and some of whom follow the race route through its entire three-week duration in huge RVs.
Tour organizers claim that the Tour itself is carbon neutral, with 100% of its emissions offset. And, strictly speaking that claim may be true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Per Cycling News, Tour de France in no position to shrug off climate action protest:
The bicycle may be a most ecologically-sound mode of transport, but the 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 an altogether inappropriate target for peaceful environmental protests of the kind witnessed on stage 10 to Megève.
The logistics of bringing a rolling village of approximately 4,000 people around France has made it so. As of last year, ASO claims that 100% of the carbon emissions produced by the Tour organisation itself are offset, but those calculations do not factor in the emissions produced by the team staff, journalists, sponsors, corporate guests, fans and assorted suiveurs following the race across its three weeks.
In 2021, when QuickStep announced that they had become the WorldTour’s first carbon-neutral team, they published a sobering calculation of the emissions they had needed to offset during the season. The estimated 1288 tons of CO2 produced by the team in a year is equivalent to driving a car 179 times around the world or making 539 return flights between Brussels and New York.
Automaker Skoda is a Tour de France sponsor, while both oil-rich Bahrain and the UAE each sponsor their own eight-member teams.
Some of the riders reacted sensitively to the protests, such as Fred Wright of the Bahrain Victorious team:
[He] was in the group chasing Bettiol and, like the Italian, his first instinct was to squeeze through the gap and continue racing. “Your instant reaction is, ‘OK, I need to get through this as quickly as I can,’ but you forget there’s loads of cars that also have to get past,” Wright said.
“I figured it was some kind of climate protest, and you almost know that straight away. They’re protesting about a good thing, but it’s not great when it’s at the front of the Tour de France.”
But others didn’t view things quite so sympathetically:
Wright’s calm acknowledgement and understanding of the bigger issue contrasted with the lamentably blinkered view presented on France Télévisions’ post-stage analysis programme Vélo Club, where the very cause the protestors were highlighting was – deliberately – not even mentioned.
“There’s no question of talking about it, we’re here to talk about cycling,” said Laurent Jalabert. Then again, the Frenchman is no stranger to reticence when faced with uncomfortable questions. “There are 10,000 causes that could demonstrate on the race,” he continued.
By contrast, tour organizers had their talking points ready. Over to Cycling News:
Tour director Christian Prudhomme made a brief appearance on the programme, where presenter Laurent Luyat limited himself to one vague question about the stoppage, but again, there was no discussion of the rationale behind it.
“It was unexpected and untimely. That happens on the roads of the Tour de France because it can be a big soap box,” said Prudhomme. “That happens sometimes, but we’re rarely blocked for a few minutes like that, and fortunately the race was able to start again. It happened at Rolland Garros, it happened at the Formula 1 at Silverstone, it happened in the German football league, and it happened again today here.”
The first tour was run in 1903, and has been run every year since – with the exception of the two World Wars. The whole spectacle is free, and historically, its intended audience was the proletariat. Spectators line the course, with no barricades separating them from the cyclists.
Each year, the 23-day race race traces a slightly different route through France, wending is way through mountainous and flat terrain, and featuring many classic climbs. Each of its 21 daily stages is designed to offer something for the different types of cyclists who enter: the sprinters, the climbers, the time trialists.
As a long-time cycling fan I’ve watched race coverage over the course of many years, once in 2003 in various Parisien bars and cafes when I happened to be in France during the period when the Tour was run.
Even better for me was the 2019 race, when I was visiting some friends who divide their time between London and a house not too far from Carcassonne. That year, we walked the half kilometer from their village, early in the afternoon on a bright sunshiny day, to wait alongside their friends and neighbours for the arrival of the Tour.
We arrived about a half hour before the riders were due to arrive. There was a bit of a build-up, with race officials and security personnel preceding the cyclists, along with employees of various sponsors who tossed various freebies off the back of trucks to spectators.
I don’t remember any breakaways that day. Finally the peloton whizzed by. I thought how vulnerable the cyclists were. Anyone was free to step into the route and if you watch the daily TV coverage, every day, people jump out onto the course, to experience a moment in the spotlight – often wearing an outrageous costume or trailing a banner the meaning of which is obscure to any observer.
But you don’t quite get how close they are – both to spectators and to each other – and how fast the pelotons travels, until you see it for yourself. That day, the riders passed safely past us and my friends and I walked, laughing, back to their home.
It’s not surprising that those with a cause to promote find the Tour to be an irresistible target for protest. Iin the past, Tour organizers have been able to manage this temptation. According to Cycling News:
There was a time when there seemed to be a tacit accord between the Tour organisation and protestors who used the race to alert the watching public to their causes. Race director Jacques Goddet, so the saying went, was France’s president for the month of July. And so, as the Tour travelled around the L’Hexagone, striking workers or protesting farmers would meet with the country’s temporary premier, and a quid pro quo would invariably emerge – the protestors’ grievances were given a public platform while the race continued largely unhindered.
That unspoken social contract seemed to break down 40 years ago, as the journalist Dan Perez outlined in L’Équipe earlier on this Tour. In 1982, steelworkers from Usinor protested the imminent closure of their plant in Denain, and their blockade caused a Tour stage to be cancelled for the very first time. In the four decades since the Tour’s ear for social protest has closed like a fist. Witness, for instance, the tear gas police used to disperse a farmers’ protest in the Aude in 2018.
“It was as if this episode marked the first division of the paths of workers and of cycling, which had for so long been intertwined,” Perez wrote of the 1982 cancellation. “The Tour would certainly remain free, accessible to proletarians, but the athletes hurtling down the road on their bikes were starting to belong to them no longer.”
I’m not sure the organizers of this year’s Tour de France climate protest didn’t do themselves more harm than good with this particular protest. They also risked serious injury – or worse – to themselves and the riders. The video of the protests made me recall just how vulnerable the riders are. As are all road cyclists. My husband is a keen cyclist and has competed in master’s duathlon races – e.g., triathlons minus the swimming – in GB national colors, He’s never been seriously injured in a crash, but he has crashed and cracked two helmets – helmets being designed to crack, so your skull doesn’t.
Besides, it seems to me, we’re long past the phase when protests are what’s needed. It’s time for the world to wake up and take serious steps to confront climate change.
Alas, instead we see the U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia v. EPA restrict even further the Biden administration’s all-too-paltry efforts to regulate emissions. And the Western alliance fall over themselves to burn more coal and take further steps to spew more carbon in order to thwart those pesky Russians.
If I were to think about this insanity too much, I’d drive myself crazy. Instead, after I’ve finished posting for the day, I’ll sit down and we’ll watch a classic climbing stage, Briançon to Alpe d’Huez. That follows yesterday’s amazing state, when Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard seized the Tour de France lead and claimed the yellow jersey.
If you have eight minutes to spare, watch the official Tour de France highlight video of yesterday’s stage included in this link here. If this doesn’t pique your further interest in cycling, nothing will.
I love the spectacle of the Tour, its an amazing event, not least because its probably the only major sporting event you can see live for free. I’m not sure the climate change protestors are doing more harm than good to their cause ,but its noticeable that the riders themselves didn’t grumble too much, despite what must have been a very frustrating experience for them. But given the blasting temperatures over most of Europe this summer, hopefully people will finally start realising that business as usual is simply impossible.
Yeah. Under second heat wave right now, this summer has become a different thing. Seville is Mordor, says a friend of mine. The Spanish Minister for The Ecologic Transition and the Demographic Challenge (this is truly the name of the Ministry that includes energy issues) is one of the politicians for whom I have more respect. Teresa Rivera. She is serious and tries to do her best. Yet, for instance, because war, her ministry is reserving the most polluting carbon plant in Spain, just in case NG supplies go badly because Ukraine, Algeria or whatever, as a possible emergency solution. Because her party couldn’t stand restrictions before elections. So even politicians who are sane are forced to go in the incorrect direction.
The protesters at Le Tour have been widely ignored and this is telling. Very few amongst the PMC and EU/US politics are really serious about climate change and protesters are ignored. IMO, they/we should embrace the strategies that the LGTB collective has been using: transform demonstrations on kinds of parties. Parties that express love for the earth and the need for a dramatic change. Massive they must be. I think this demonstration was useless. Also, general strikes demanding action make sense.
Stop everything until something is done.
Back in the 1990’s there were some great party protests – I took part in many Critical Masses and Reclaim the Streets events. They were almost invariably huge fun and generally speaking (apart from a few red faced SUV drivers) went down well. But they were almost entirely ignored by the media and gradually just ran out of steam. They also over time attracted people for whom the party (or to be precise, sitting around drinking cheap lager) was more the point than the political process, and things could get a little ugly later in the day.
ISTR that about 20 years ago, there was a Critical Mass that shut down Tucson’s Speedway Boulevard. That’s one of our main east-west arterials, and the traffic jam was something like 6 miles long.
Let’s just say that the Critical Mass riders didn’t win any new friends for bicycling. For years afterward, they were referred to as the Critical Massholes.
I don’t know about these particular protester at Le Tour, but the locals here have been blocking normal traffic in the already most congested parts of the city without any actual message or agenda – which I find as a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
At least back in my protesting years (which may see a comeback, I hope) we had a simple actionable agenda, like “remove nuclear weapons from Europe” or “do not attack Iraq”.
The global warming protesters I’ve seen lately are just demanding that somebody must do something, which unfortunately cannot be called a political program. Me, personally, would be ready to join a protest with any clear, actionable step as a message (even as little as a smartphone sabbath or as big as obligatory reforestation of unused land) but my adult son has already conceded to the fact that during his lifetime there will be enormous climate driven population migrations with the ensuing instability and violence and there’s nothing he can do to prevent that.
Well, the anti nuclear and anti-Iraq war protests were very clear and unambiguous and achieved precisely nothing.
The problem with climate change activism is, as you say, that you can either keep things general, and people accuse you of being fuzzy and unclear, or you can be specific about goals (for example, try to shut down an airport) and people accuse you of being against poor people having holidays. You can’t really win. I remember watching a video of an anti roads protest that decided to focus on SUV’s being used to drive kids to school and block only them. A woman in a very new expensive Lexus SUV could be seen shouting ‘but its a hybrid, its a hybrid, I’m on your side!’.
PKun, I joined a number of marches and demonstrations over the decades starting with Vietnam in 1968, some of those marches had more than 500,000 participants.
None of them changed anything.
The USA has been an oligarchy for a long time and it has evolved into a lawless,corrupt and incompetent elite, some of whom are objectively insane.
“I think this demonstration was useless.”
I think doing something wrong is better than doing nothing. It seems very PMC to wait to figure out the correct action to the existential risk of climate change.
Quite the opposite. The “cult of action” is the foundation of the professional manager’s persona and place in society. Or, at least, I’ve rarely heard that kind of cultism from actual working-class people who weren’t actively climbing the ladder for status greed.
And in San Francisco as well. As if blocking thousands of people and assaulting the occasional confused tourists (because everyone must know who they are and so get out of their way.) It’s so fun to tell the SO that you are trapped in the bus or car during the commute home while they did their monthly stunt.
Team Total Energie, with multi green jersey winner and fan favorite Peter Sagan, is sponsored by French oil and gas giant Total Energie.
From Wikipedia: According to the CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017, the company was one of the top 100 companies producing carbon emissions globally, responsible for 0.9% of global emissions from 1998 to 2015
Total Energie’s market cap June 14, 2022 close is 122 Billion Euro’s.
They aren’t protesting bicycle racing.
Have a chalet near to the Col de l’Izoard, one of the mythical passes of the Tour, they take it once every few years.
One aspect of the carbon emissions of the Tour which is probably not taken into account is that they redo the asphalt every time the Tour passes through to guarantee the safety of the cyclists. High mountain roads are very quickly in a sorry state because of the weather, falling rocks and such, so it’s great for the area because we get to have a brand new road on a regular basis.
But I’m pretty sure refurbishing a road has a certain carbon footprint, and seeing as the roadworks and expenses are taken care for by the towns and the département, that footprint is probably disregarded by the Tour’s organisation in their overall assessment.
I had forgotten that detail about road refurbishment. Now I recall my host mentioning it and pointing out the newly-repaved roads when I visited.
To be fair, so far as I know its usually a case of adjusting the usual resurfacing schedule to make sure its done on a Tour year. All mountain roads need regular resurfacing and usually French roads are impeccable. In the old days of course it was often on rough gravel roads most of the way (and they still deliberately incorporate cobbles and gravel into the race).
I know that those climate change activists think that they are helping but they are not. Not really. Just the other day you had two of them glue themselves to a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. And here is Oz they were gluing themselves to the road to hold up people trying to get to work. And here is another example-
Thing is, I have noticed a pattern and it is this. They only do this sort of crap which affects ordinary people who could potentially be their allies but who will now not be. That includes those gluing themselves to the roof of the London Underground trains too.
But hey, does anybody remember that time that they blockaded all those people who were going to Obama’s birthday party? Or glued themselves outside the homes of executives of corporations that are responsible for the most pollution? No, I don’t either. It’s almost as if the idea of going after people with power is off limits to them. But that is a sort of “Planet of the Humans” conspiracy theory that.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. Read it. Results due to “inconveniencing” the elite. We can’t start too soon.
1947’s Taft-Hartley Act became law over a Truman veto. The American General Strike has been illegal ever since.
I was age 9 then. Do the math. High time American union labor’s last remnants spat on their hands and hoisted the Black Flag. But instead of H.L. Mencken’s “begin slitting throats,” how about interrupting 2 or 3 of Big Tech’s routine “HAPPIEST HOLIDAYS OF THE YEAR?”
Not everyone including whoever is POTUS then will be thrilled by this tactic. On the other hand it beats being ignored to death.
Ok, I think a little perspective is required. And, I say this as an abide cyclist who has both competed in multiple Etapes, ultra endurance races, etc. I love cycling, cycling culture, etc. I hate how cars in this country treat us.
Now… this post is actually quite balanced. Le Tour is simply amazing. But, what those protesters did was not helpful to the climate cause. They got some PR, they literally put the cyclists lives in jeopardy. Stopping a race, neutralizing it and restarting it is not easy. The carbon footprint of the Tour is irrelevant. I am very concerned about climate change, but I thought they were self centered, PR hawks and simply jerks.
If you look at the video, you see just how dangerous such a protest can be. In this case Bettiol, solo, wove his way through protestors, in the aftermath of a flare. A top-class rider has excellent bike-handling skills, but still…
I’d like to think the protestors chose their moment based on his solo breakaway, b/c if a much larger breakaway – or the peloton – had reached them without the race organizers being aware of what was going on and stopping the race in time, there could have been carnage. It’s not unusual for riders to crash badly during the Tour de France and some have died.
And as you point out, getting things neutralized and restarted is no trivial matter.
I was watching in real time and agree that that was impressive bike handling in the smoke cloud.
The realistic wager now related to ‘cllmate change’ is cut off fossil fuels and starve hundreds of billions of global citizens OR utilize fossil fuels while honestly investigating and funding real clean solutions. Solutions must include real analyses of end to end clean solutions…such as the short life span of solar panels so approval of them enmasse must include plans to dispose of them once they fail and risk analysis of possible failures. Same with EV’s and nuclear. I live in the south and the two nuclear power plants on the Georgia/South Carolina border were turned up around 1975 with a life span of 40 years according to publication. Now it has been 7 years past that lifespan which risks radiation leakage. There is NO profit in Maintenance in capitalism so maintenance cost must be factored in to every solution.
Solar panels work for a lot longer than the warranty. Their efficiency just continues to fall off as long as the glass and backplane maintain integrity. I purchased a pile of used panels that were being replaced in a commercial solar farm due to having so called “snail trails” and failed backplane sheets (cracks). Almost free. After applying a few coats of outdoor paint on the backplane to seal them, the panels are generating power happily in all weather. At what efficiency? Good enough for my roof. If we keep using and repairing old panels they are going to be a viable option much like old tires and cars being shipped to third world countries for continued use are today. In any case, a longer lifespan than a nuclear plant.
Slim checking in from Tucson.
As mentioned previously, I don’t drive and I don’t own a car. Most of my around-town transportation is via Stealth Mode, aka my little black bicycle.
For many years, I have noticed something about my fellow cyclists, and that is their habit of driving their bicycles to hither and yon so they could go for a ride. More recently, I’ve been seeing the effects of this habit during my Sunday morning rides on The Loop. That’s a very popular recreational trail that goes around the edge of our city.
I’m seeing far fewer riders on The Loop, and I suspect that high gas prices are the reason. Driving the bicycles has gotten pretty expensive.
The above being said, I don’t agree with the climate change protestors who shut the Tour down. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that many of them drove to this protest.
What about electric bikes? I wonder what their environmental impact is. I’m skeptical about the overall impact of discarded batteries.
We live in a semi-rural area with plenty of high speed pickup trucks and SUVs on the narrow roads. Once off the main roads, there are steep hills.
I used to build and ride recumbents, but gave them up when we moved here. Perhaps i need to modify one of my recumbents to electric… That would take care of the steep hills, but I still fear the narrow roads and aggressive high speed drivers.
As I near 80, I’m thinking my bike riding days may be over. Perhaps the only real option is to move into town–walkable distance from stores and library–or sign up for a weekly minimum wage caregiver who comes to the house and helps with cleaning, repairs, and grocery shopping.
Our anemic public bus system is not an option.
Moving to a lovely walkable city with great climate would be ideal. Hawaii? Paris? Vancouver? A friend moved to Portland and was eventually prevented from walking to stores by homeless encampments and riots.
Who cares if they drove to the protest? Individual change is not the point, the point is to encourage systemic change. Getting enough people to start caring or stop being cynical or depressed or scared – whatever is stopping them – that is the order of the day.
If a genie said, “I will grant you the wish of systemic social change that could substantially slow climate change but you have to drive 25,000 miles first”… I would take that deal.
Back in the late nineties, we were staying in Valloire, a village on the road leading to the Galibier, one of the iconic climbs of the Tour. The entire week before the stage, the narrow road through the village was packed with cars and white camper vans (a lot smaller than the American behemoths) heading up to the base of the Col, where they would park and party and yell ‘allez! allez! allez!’ as the cyclists labored up the switchbacks.
The next year, we cycled the Tour route through the Pyrenees, just a few days before the professional cyclists roared through. After cycling in the US, along the pot-holed roads of Pacific Coast and across New York and New England and the Adirondacks, we really appreciated the beautiful roads; smooth as glass! But, as H. Toin points out, with a carbon cost. And I grew to love the signs, placed every kilometer, telling us amateur cyclists how long we had to suffer to reach the peak of each col.
There is a big difference between the type of cycling the Tour riders, and their lycra-clad imitators in the US, do and the kind of cycling, daily commuting slogs and trips to the market and getting kids to school, that we need to make a significant carbon impact. My husband and I have done both. The latter takes concerted planning, road and traffic design, and local government incentives. And, ‘political will,’ of course.
Move the race to southern Indiana like Breaking Away. Nay danger of such a ‘protest’ in that locale.
Thanks for the chuckle – I had completely forgotten about that movie. Time to watch it again and see how it’s held up.
I am a fan of the tour, but do understand the statement the protestors were attempting to make. Should have chosen another method no doubt.
I presume the statement they wished to make was somehow related to this:
Professional sports here in the US consume a lot of fossil fuels.
The NFL recently posted the miles traveled by each team for the regular season and I think it added to more than 500,000 miles. Add on the pre and post season Plus all the TV and other support folks and all the local folks traveling to the stadium to work or watch and that adds to a lot.
The same would be true for Baseball, basketball and all the other pro sports.
And, the colleges level sports do the same but I’d guess on a smaller scale.
USC and UCLA just agreed to join the B1G Ten. Their closest opponent (Nebraska) is 1500 miles away. It is all about the TV money and nothing about competing vs. regional universities anymore…
The Ineos Grenadiers Team (UK), Team Total Energies (France), are high profile teams sponsored by image conscious oil and gas companies at the TdF.
Sponsors for Team U.A.E. and Bahrain Victorious Cycling have what you might call a “historic” interest in the oil and gas industry as well.
They aren’t protesting bicycling.
Great article! Thank you!
As a life long cyclist, for transportation since I was 10 on my paper route, through college, later for sport, and again as a septuagenarian for pleasure, shopping, and fitness, I would think most Tour competitors would be quite sympathetic to the protests.
Anyone who trains or ventures outside is well aware of the increasingly brutal summer temperatures we must endure on a daily basis. In time, I fear this will cause the entire sport to vanish.
The spin that is put on this, however, will be dictated by our overlords.
It seemed like the TDF was on path to be a coronation for the yellow jersey. Usually the yellow jersey and the yellow jersey’s team can dominate the peloton into submission. But yesterday’s stage, the yellow jersey was caught without his team. And the coronation went that away. Pretty rare and amazing to see.
Here’s a longer version with the US feed (partial to Phil and Bob as announcers) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwWLg3u-Jj8 The attacks on the yellow jersey start at the 26 minute mark.
Some people in this discussion have criticized the protesters for using the wrong methods to make friends and influence people. Going by the Civil Rights demonstrations in the US, which are the only successful major demonstrations I know much about, the point of a demonstration or other form of direct action is not to make friends, it’s to get in the face of the opposition and stay there, until it becomes easier and cheaper to make peace with the demonstrators than to continue the oppression they’re protesting against. It’s not a contest of theories, ideologies or moral standing, it’s a contest of will. Messing up the Tour de France is probably very mild compared to what’s coming.
Sponsors like Ineos and Total Energie will often bring company big-shots, investors, what have you, to hang with the team or see the TdF up close and personal.
I still ride regularly and I often find peers wearing their cycling hero’s uniform/jersey’s completely unaware that their clothes are promoting a European insurance company, oil and gas company or a Dutch super market chain.
Elites make climate policy. Elites don’t listen to the plebs. I’ve never forgotten how someone suggested to Windbag John Kerry that he should travel first class instead of a private jet to help fight climate change. He was traveling to Iceland for a climate talk. His response? “My time is too important.”
The sacrifices are to be made by the little people. Elites are just TOO IMPORTANT.
If I have my history right the Tour was started by a newspaper back in the They Shoot Horses Don’t They era as a kind of endurance spectacle such as were then popular. Which is to say it has always been as much spectacle as sport and so why not ecological protests to go with all the other message spinning–much of it commercial. Whatever it’s about it’s probably not Olympic style purity and the drug use suspicions are always lingering (including, from what I read, this year).
I’ve been riding bikes on and off all my life including through some of that beautiful French countryside. I think it’s about the enjoyment of the experience of you yourself riding rather than racing. But more power to those who find the Tour thrilling.