In a year when climate change protesters twice disrupted the Tour de France, professional cycling’s questionable environmental record is under the microscope more than ever before. However, no one seems to have told RCS Sport, the organisers of the Giro d’Italia, who are reportedly determined to bring their flagship event back to Rome – and are prepared to subject the race’s caravan to a 700km transfer from the Julian Alps in the far north-east of the country to facilitate such a finale.
According to local reports, RCS Sport have apparently shelved plans to end the 2023 Giro in Trieste in favour of a final stage in Rome, which last hosted the grand tour in 2018. That particular edition wasn’t without its controversy, however, as rider concerns about the perceived danger of the course prompted a neutralisation of the general classification with seven laps of the city centre circuit remaining.
Nevertheless, it is the 700km transfer to Rome from the rumoured penultimate stage, a mountain time trial on the Monte Santo di Lussari, and the environmental impact of that seemingly unnecessary journey, that has most perturbed the cycling community.
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For a mode of transport so intrinsically associated with green living, professional cycling’s environmental track record has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.
While grand tours may not have the carbon footprint of other major sporting events – Tour de France organisers ASO, who have launched a range of climate-conscious initiatives in recent years, claim that their race’s annual footprint is between a sixth or seventh of that of the Olympic Games – their impact on the planet cannot be underestimated. According to ASO’s estimates, their race emits the same amount of carbon as 68,500 French people in a year.
But it is the travel required for teams to compete across Europe and the world that arguably represents pro cycling’s most worrying and obvious environmental footprint.
For example, as pointed out by Richard Abraham in an article for Procycling magazine last year, Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s annual emissions (90 percent of which come from travel) total roughly 1,280 tonnes of C02 – the equivalent of 1,280 passengers taking return flights from Brussels to New York, and which require 3,000 football pitches of reforestation to offset.
Image: A.S.O., Aurelien Vialatte
Recent decisions made by grand tour organisers certainly haven’t helped matters. In the last decade or so, the Tour de France has largely eschewed the traditional transition stages which brought the peloton from the Alps or Pyrenees to Paris, in favour of one long, single plane transfer for the riders, while the race’s vast fuel-spewing caravan of team staff, organisation and media travel by car, bus and lorry to the French capital.
The modern infatuation with foreign grand departs has also added to the miles and emissions of the big three-week tours: in 2022, the Giro, Tour and Vuelta a España all started outside of their respective home countries, to the extent that all three races required early ‘travel days’ to facilitate the long journey back home following a money-spinning opening weekend.
It’s not surprising then that cycling commentators and fans have reacted negatively to the rumours that RCS Sport is planning to transport the Giro from the Julian Alps in the north-east corner of Italy to Rome for a ceremonial final stage, a decision one fan described on Twitter as “shameful”.
“Seriously the UCI need to call time on these absurd transfers,” cycling journalist and author Jeremy Whittle tweeted. “How can Grand Tours complain about environmental protestors while continuing to design totally inappropriate courses like this?”
The Kingston upon Thames branch of the Green Party also wrote: “Cycling is environmentally friendly. However, as a pro sport it does very little to portray this sometimes. Not good enough Giro d’Italia and the UCI. Climate Action is needed – not stunts like this.”
PedalbikePosts noted that the UCI’s own sustainability guidelines on transport advise that “taking climate action in this area means reducing the amount of travel and de-carbonising the mode of transportation wherever possible”, and questioned whether a 700km mid-race transfer represents “a commitment to this goal”.
“What was it again about ‘environmentally friendly’? Still not so much in Grand Tours apparently... sigh,” wrote Cycling Eve, while another Twitter user argued that the rumoured finale in Rome “reinforces the point that bike *racing* isn’t exactly green”.
The full route of the 2023 Giro d’Italia, which according to reports will commence with an individual time trial in the Abruzzo region, will be unveiled by RCS Sport on Monday 17 October.
Whether or not the Giro’s eventual route and accompanying transfers substantiate the environmental concerns shared on Twitter today, the message sent by the cycling community towards the sport’s stakeholders is becoming increasingly clear.
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