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Pro Cycling And Its Effects On The Environment

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

This is a disjointed string of ideas that I have been thinking about for a while when I have been out riding. These thoughts are just out for discussion and there are plenty more factors to the subject of the climate and cycling that haven't been included. However, I feel the topic should be raised as I believe that cultural shifts will need to occur in the not too distant future. I hope to personally make as many changes as possible in order to have a reduced impact on the environment without affecting my cycling performance.

I have always had the dilemma of combining my cycling world with the real-world problems that also interest and motivate me. I care quite a bit about the environment, and it angers me that we are just obliviously changing the world for the worst. However, this anger has a large conflict with my main life interest where I dream of becoming a professional cyclist. Here, consumerism is what keeps the sport alive. Without commercial companies showcasing their products in the world tour peloton or similar, the sport wouldn’t have the capacity for professional riders or teams to race around the world. But when companies like Ineos and Gazprom are sponsoring major teams, you start to question the paradox of cycling: it is presented to be a solution to vehicle pollution to the general public, but it is actually causing much more harm than good at the highest level.

To start, littering in races and sometimes even in training is awful. Yes, there has been improvement with green zones in races, but riders are still throwing bottles around and teams seem to be going through thousands in each race. I understand this will have a limited impact on its own, but when pro riders influence younger riders it can really cause a change in mentality towards littering which will have a greater effect generally. Vehicles are another problem. In big races, teams and officials have to have many cars, motos and campers to be able to put on such big portable and temporary events. The Tour de France is a great example of the fact that as teams look to find the marginal gains, vehicle fleet sizeincrease dramatically. Ineos probably have the most vehicles supporting them with:

1 - Team bus

1 - Mechanics truck

1 - Kitchen truck

1 - Multiuse vehicle

2 - Ford Mondeo ST

3 - Ford S max

4 - Ford transit vans

That is 13 Vehicles traveling around 3,500km in one grand tour, which is a total of 45,500kms for all the vehicles. This is only one of 3 grand tours and only one of 22 teams that take part in them. This makes the Tour de France unsurprisingly the most polluting sporting event in the world. But, I think that the majority of this can be solved. With the distances covered by the vehicles each day being manageable for electric vehicles, it is reasonable to demand that there is a change to using electric vehicles in the grand tours, in order to reduce their footprint as the global climate becomes a more important factor. The use of electric vehicles has actually been used at this year’s addition of the Artic Tour of Norway were all the official’s cars were electric, and from what I heard there weren’t any problems.

This however is only one of many problems that could affect the sports future if it decides to reduce its impact on the environment. This reduced impact may not require a shift in people’s consumption of cycling goods, maintaining a relatively successful market as long as companies realise their personal footprint on the environment and act on it. The only change for the public will be to reward the companies that have changed their materials, packaging and manufacturing processes with their customer loyalty. However, in a community where only the best is acceptable, less environmentally friendly products or manufacturing techniques may be the only way to produce the highest quality for the cheapest prices.

This has always been a problem for me personally as if I wasn’t a cyclist I would probably be vegan and definitely be vegetarian. I would try and walk or ride my bike everywhere, I would dramatically reduce my consumerism levels and I would spend less time traveling around Europe. However, cycling provides the selfish excuse to not be doing these things. And it seems that everyone, no matter what their career choice, can also find these excuses for themselves. I worry for my performance if I were to not get the right amount or types of protein on a vegan diet, I don’t want to be exercising between rides with walks or trips out on the bike so taking the bus or car is a much better option to help recovery and I buy silly amounts of equipment to ensure I’m not falling behind and maintaining the equipment that I currently own. Knowing this, I struggle to think what it will take for organisations like world tour teams to make big changes to their methods which may end up limiting the riders’ performance.

I don’t know where my career will take me, but I hope that if I ride for a high profile team in the future or even get to work in the cycling industry, I would like to ensure that the sponsors are all looking after the planet. If not, I feel it’s our responsibility as riders and cycling enthusiasts to encourage and work with the companies to change their priority on climate change.

I hope that in the future cycling will be seen as an example at both grassroots and elite level to other sports and even business sectors.

This isn’t something that will just pass over, so I hope to make this more of a project as I continue exploring the cycling world.

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