How green are cycling events?

Riding a bike, in itself, has the lowest impact on our planet of any form of transport except walking (see Cycling Science pages 24 & 25).

But what about cycling en masse, such as sportives or charity rides? Participants often drive many miles to take part.

And what about the biggest of them all – the Tour de France? The publicity caravan, team buses, police, press and organiser’s motorbikes, TV helicopters and air transfers between stages all belch carbon.

Then, of course, there’s us. The fans. How much of the Earth’s resources do we convert into greenhouse gases just to catch a glimpse of our heroes?

One answer was given last month in a summary report on the envronmental impact of the 2007 Grand Depart from London. It was published by BRASS (the Centre for Business Relationsips, Responsibility, Accountability and Sustainability & Society at Cardiff University).

In keeping with the current backlash against the relentless rise of cycling, the summary was interpreted by some as an exposé and that Le Tour deserves no green jersey.

The CO2 emissions generated by the crowds it attracted to London from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world were 2.2 times higher than if they had stayed at home and watched it on TV.

But that’s as far as it went.

It didn’t take into account that some or all of those attending may not have stayed at home even if Le Tour hadn’t happened. It was, after all, a lovely summer day, just right for a day out.

And the summary didn’t take into account the reduction in vehicle emissions in central London, caused not only by closing the roads to traffic but also by the disruption,

And it certainly didn’t compare the environmental impact of the stage to any other large sporting event.

This is unfair. Unintentionally, it blackened cycling.

The authors might, at least, have drawn comparisons with the impacts of other sports events of global interest.

Fortunately, it is possible to straighten the record a little.

In 2006 I wrote a piece, for IPC’s guide to Le Tour, discussing the green credentials of the event. By happy coincidence I spoke with a BRASS researcher.

He told me that, compared to other large sporting events, such as the Olympics, Formula One or the FIFA World Cup, the Tour is green, “Particularly when you consider how many spectators there are,” he said.

The key is that the Tour is a road race.

“It uses the existing road network and doesn’t need any new infrastructure such as stadiums which require large amounts of natural resources.”

And he pointed out that the Tour may actually boost sustainability. “It may even inspire people to cycle,” he said.

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