‘Clowns’ and an ‘important subject’: Riders and teams react to climate protest on Tour de France

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Stage 10 of the Tour de France provided plenty of drama and action, not least because of the 15-minute stoppage in the final 36 kilometers after climate protesters blocked the road.

Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) was the first rider to come across them as he had made a solo attack from the breakaway a few kilometers earlier.

Television footage showed the Italian riding through the red smoke of a flare that had been set off before negotiating the group of nine protestors in the center of the road. While Bettiol on his own could easily get around them, it was clear that a large peloton would not, and the race was halted.

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The incident has spawned many responses from the teams and riders, some supporting the decision to protest, some criticizing it harshly.

“For me, everybody is working at the Tour de France, I don’t say anything about the protest, but they could do it differently. I don’t know,” Bettiol said after the race.

“I didn’t know it was a protest. I saw from afar that these people were in the middle of the road, but in the end, they managed pretty well because the police helped the people to go away and they gave me the gap. So, in the end it doesn’t really change anything apart from the feeling after having stopped for 15 or 20 minutes isn’t always easy.”

The protest was done by French climate activists Dernière Rénovation (meaning the “Last Renovation”), who also disrupted a match at the French Open last month. The group is calling on the French government to commit to a comprehensive and energy-efficient renovation of existing buildings by 2040.

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B&B Hotels-KTM manager Jérôme Pineau was less pragmatic than Bettiol about the situation, calling the protestors “clowns” and saying that it was a “shame” it had happened.

“It’s just a pity that clowns come to interrupt the Tour. Let them go see the political leaders to get their ideas across. The Tour de France has nothing to do with global warming,” Pineau told RMC Sport.

“I understand that there are problems, that everyone has their problems. The riders have nothing to do with it. It’s quite dangerous, they lay down on the road It’s a shame to interrupt the race, after that it’s part of the Tour de France. We know that it’s such a showcase that it can let a few people and a few fanatics express themselves. I imagine that they each have their reason and that the cause is good. It’s a shame to have done it like that.”

The majority of riders took the brief hiatus in their stride, chatting amongst each other and taking the opportunity to have a nature break. There was some support for the movement amongst the peloton.

“We see that we are in a humanitarian crisis with the temperatures rising. It is important that there are people who demonstrate, we all need to be sensitive to this. It does not shock me at all, I think there have to be more and more things like that to make sure that everyone realizes that we are moving forward in a crisis,” Groupama-FDJ’s Antoine Duchesne told France Television.

Others had more mixed feelings about the race being held up by the protest, believing it to be a pertinent issue but questioning the methods.

“These are important subjects, I know that the organization is keen to evolve in this direction, on the throws of cans, waste areas. It’s good to demonstrate, after that I don’t know if it’s good to slow down the race,” Cofidis rider Victor Lafay said.

Former rider turned TV pundit, Bradley Wiggins was on the back of a motorbike within the race when it all happened. He described the scene for GCN and Eurosport viewers, calling the protestors “imbeciles” in the process.

“There has obviously been a demonstration of some sort on the road, much like they had in the UK a couple of months ago. With the imbeciles sat on the road; two of them actually sat in the middle of the road, they had a noose around their neck and around the other person’s neck,” he said.

“I was watching the ASO, they were quite — as the French are, get quite angry at things like this —dragging them off the road. Pascal Lino, ex Tour de France yellow jersey, obviously, threw one down into the ditch there. And another lady had her legs under the car. It was quite crazy, really, whatever they were protesting about, probably over nothing. We don’t need that disrupting this bicycle race here. A lot of people getting quite angry here, actually. Some of the DS’s jumped out of the car, stuck a boot in.”

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