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“Our sport will wither and die if we refuse these sponsors”: Sportswashing and pro cycling’s carbon footprint discussed, plus LTNs vs dodgy data on the Podcast

In episode 71 of the Podcast, we’ve got two great guests and two compelling topics to discuss… namely sportswashing and low traffic neighbourhoods

We’re arguably missing a debate about helmets, but otherwise it doesn’t get much more Podcast than this! In episode 71 we talk to Darach McQuaid, the former chairman and current advisor to pro cycling outfit GreenEDGE Cycling, to discuss some big elephants in the room when it comes to the dichotomy between professional cycling and cycling as a mode of transport. In part 2 we're joined by Lorna Devenish, an active travel campaigner who talks us through the recent controversy surrounding Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Exeter, controversy that has garnered attention far beyond South Devon.


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Pro cycling's "awful" business model  

shell british cycling - via British Cycling

In a wide-ranging discussion around the envirnonmental impact of pro cycling and alleged 'sportswashing' by certain corporations and even entire states that are investing in the top tier of the sport, McQuaid explains why sometimes, investment is difficult to turn down in professional cycling, where opportunities to generate revenue can be few and far between.  

> Is cycling's 'sportswashing' debate too big to ignore?

“The business model unfortunately in our beloved sport is a terrible one. It really is awful", says McQuaid. 

"We cannot be turning off potential revenue sources at will, there’s got to be a reasonable approach to it."

Even so, McQuaid says he'd like to see more done to make professional cycling more sustainable, suggesting that high-speed rail could replace short-haul flights for transfers between some stages at big races, and that every area should be looked at to cut the environmental impact of pro cycling. 

"I would love to see the sport be at the front of environmental issues and be a leader rather than a follower.

"I've been involved a little bit in Formula 1 and they very proudly claim they're almost 100% sustainable... it shouldn't be just buying carbon credits though, I'd love to see the UCI, race organisers and teams create a commission that looks at every area of our sport. There's a lot of plastic involved." 

Heavitree & Whipton Streets for People, Exeter

In part 2, we build on our recent coverage of a very local battle that has garnered national attention. Lorna Devenish, an active travel campaigner and spokesperson for the Heavitree and Whipton Liveable Neighbourhood Group, talks us through the battle against misinformation since active travel schemes were introduced in and around the city of Exeter, and attempts to explain why such strong feelings were whipped up by the introduction of LTNs in the area.

> How to save a Low Traffic Neighbourhood

Vandalism, protests, intimidation of local politicians, “dodgy” data… this saga has it all, and at the heart of it, many residents simply want to be able to walk, cycle and wheel around their local area in a safer environment.

The Podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Amazon Music, and if you have an Alexa you can just tell it to play the Podcast. It’s also embedded further up the page, so you can just press play.

At the time of broadcast, our listeners can also get a free Hammerhead Heart Rate Monitor with the purchase of a Hammerhead Karoo 2. Visit right now and use promo code ROADCC at checkout to get yours.

This content has been added by a member of the staff

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markogts | 1 month ago

Last year, for the Giro d'Italia, they paved and enlarged the road to Lussari (google up to understand the location). That same road has been banned to other cyclists some days after the race, out of safety concerns. In other words, a waterfall of concrete and tarmac, in the middle of alpine mountains, only for this elite of elite (and their cars). This was on Saturday. Sunday was the last day, it had to be in Rome, 700 km away, and of course they took several planes to go there. A formula 1 race would have had less impact. I honestly just hate all of this; call me radical or stupid environmentalist, but the sooner this circus disappears, the happier I'll be.

Cugel | 1 month ago

The "sport" that "we" will supposedly lose is a circus composed of a tiny elite, the purpose of which is to induce "we" consumer-dupes to spend loadsa money on all sorts of dross (not just cycling dross) that "we" don't need and which is slowly degrading the planet that "we" all live on to an uninhabitable conditon, doing all sorts of other harms on the way.

If professional cycling "sport" disappeared utterly, this would be no bad thing.  Not only would it cease the many harms, reduce consumerist madness a bit and underline the ridiculous nature of sleb culture, it would perhaps encourage the true sport of cycling (local and amateur) to return to what it once was. 

In my younger decades, I greatly enjoyed local cycle racing of many kinds.  These all seem to have died away to near-nowt, as the star of the professional cycling circus arose. Even in them olden days, me and most of the local club members resented having to pay an annual wodge to the national cycling organisation just to enable their often petty bureaucracy required of local races, with the great majority of our fees going to the cycling elite of a tiny few "stars. It just got worse and needs to die a death now.

Smoggysteve replied to Cugel | 1 month ago

If you want to ride about on a cheap/ reasonably priced bike (whatever you may say that price may be) then the sport of cycling probably doesn't effect you. Same as anyone who commutes or rides about on something like a Brompton or a hybrid etc. 

But the majority of people right here reading this are very much into riding high quality road bikes. Most likely but not restricted to carbon fibre. So they take their 'sport / activity / hobby' seriously. The driving factor for this is very much the tiny elite as you refer to it. That pointy end of cycling is what's driving much of the design of technology. That includes the equipment you wear or take with you. 

If road cycling were to whither and die as a sport. It would kill off nearly all of the innovation and tech which eventually trickles down to other forms of cycling. You wouldn't have electronic gears, disc brakes ultra light aero. Frames without a sport driving its innovation. 

Another point you make about local racing etc. I think the reason that has died is more down to the rise of cars making it more difficult to road cycle safely. There are many more cars on ever more crowded roads than ever. Councils are not offering much in the way of decent infrastructure. Its safety and convenience that's pushed people away not the sport itself. 

people are turned off from an activity they just don't feel safe doing. And that's across all modes of cycling. That has been a growing trend for many recent years. 

markogts replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago

There is no trickle down technology for the average user. Carbon fibre is useless for day-to-day commute, so is anything aero. What is enabling bike as a car replacement are pedal assist and internal gears, both banned by the rules.

andystow replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago

If bikes hadn't improved since 1990, would they still be fun? How about 2010? How about now? If they stopped improving, would they become less fun? Just how much fun would we missing out on?

Anyone who just wants to go faster (without a motor) can buy a recumbent of 20+ year old design.

chrisonabike replied to andystow | 1 month ago

The fun of riding a bike (fast, or up a hill, or over rough ground etc.) hasn't changed!  (And having owned recumbents older than 30 years they do indeed recreate that go-kart joy from youth again).

OTOH I imagine the desire to have that bike (that they haven't got / that you can really push yourself on) also is as it was, despite the bikes changing...

Sriracha replied to Smoggysteve | 1 month ago

My perception was that it was more trickle up than down. The UCI seem to be the last to adopt innovations. Disc brakes and tubeless spring to mind. More generally the road sport keeps bicycles within fairly rigid and unbending parameters - all the better for ensuring a level playing field, not so good for fostering experimentation and innovation.

ErnieC | 1 month ago

It would seem as if some people are happy with human rights abuses etc so long as our sport doesn't suffer. Where is the line? Do we protest a petroleum company involved with British cycling but happy with UAE sponsorship?

Crazyhorse replied to ErnieC | 1 month ago

"We cannot be turning off potential revenue sources at will, there’s got to be a reasonable approach to it" (McQuaid)

Personally, it also seems 'reasonable' to me that our sport rejects funding from outfits like Israel Premier Tech who happily sportwash Israel's terrible human rights abuses. Reasonable that it rejects funding promoting a state that has seized territory by force and illegally occupied it for 57 years. Reasonable that it rejects funding promoting a state that has so far killed over 30,000 civilians and displaced nearly 2 million people in its latest military action. Reasonable that it rejects funding promoting a state that is currently being investigated by the world's highest court for genocide. Just a thought...

andystow | 1 month ago

I'm curious about the total money involved here. Is sponsorship the only model that would work?

18 teams x €15M ≈ €300M.

Over 3 billion people watch the Tour de France. So somehow they need to collect or make €0.10 per viewer. Am I off an order of magnitude, or missing something here?


mctrials23 | 1 month ago
1 like

My issue with all these complaints is that unless people want the money to drain out of sport, the richest companies who can afford to prop them up are always and I mean always scummy. 

You don't become a multi-billion dollar company by being nice. By caring about your workers. By caring about the environment. Amazon doesn't care about its workers, where its products are coming from, the carbon footprint of their business (outside of the optics and the costs). 

In the grand scheme of things, how bad is the TdF? I'm sure its not great but I imagine that a few thousand peoples unnecessary journeys for the year equate to something similar. 

People celebrate the likes of Taylor Swift and don't really seem to care that she swans around the world on private jets on a whim. 

Basically, try and make it better without killing the sport but perhaps go after the really big ticket items. 

IanEdward | 1 month ago

I would love to see them doing something about the motorcade of vehicles that follows the peloton, I was struck by the visual of a solitary climber at the head of the race, high up some Alpine climb, almost indistinguishable against the background of cars and motorbikes behind him!

I love the footage ww get these days but is there not a better way?

mark1a replied to IanEdward | 1 month ago

With credit to Dave Walker...


markogts replied to IanEdward | 1 month ago

I did a rough back of the envelope calculation (difficult to find reliable sources) but for Giro d'Italia the ratio is about 1 car to 1 bike.

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