'Our last chance to avoid the probability of the worst' - Tour de France disrupted by climate protest

"It messed with everyone really a little bit. It's like when you stop at a café and go again," Fred Wright said

Tour de France protest
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For the riders of the Tour de France, a mild inconvenience. For the protestors, a matter of time running out to ensure the future of the planet.

This is what happened on the road to Megève on Tuesday, as the Tour was confronted by an environmental protest which forced the race to be neutralised for a quarter of an hour.

The group making their mark on the event was Dernière Rènovation (opens in new tab), who are attempting to force France to dramatically reduce its emissions. They are arguing for all homes in France to be properly insulated, through government funding, much like the Insulate Britain group did in the UK last year.

"Faced with the current ecological disaster, we want to demonstrate that it is possible for citizens around the world to impose on their governments the political agenda that we desperately need," it says on its website.

"This is our last chance to avoid the probability of the worst; and inspire massive popular uprisings in the next few years before the fate of the next 1,000 generations of humans is sealed forever."

The man first confronted with the people sitting on the road was Alberto Bettiol of EF Education-EasyPost, the Italian forced to weave around the roadblock.

"No, I didn't know what it was about," he said post-stage 10. "The protest was just weird because I saw it from far, these people were in the middle of the road standing in the road, but in the end, they managed pretty well because the police got the people to go away, and they gave me the gap again.

"So in the end it doesn't really change apart from the feeling that you have after having stopped for 15-20 minutes. It's not always easy.

"I don't say anything about the protest, but I mean, they could do it differently. Like I don't know, I don't want to talk about it."

The protest was not shown by the host broadcaster, which instead chose to cut away to general views of the Alps. For Dernière Rènovation, time is running out - one protestor had 989 days written on her t-shirt, 989 days to take action. 

The group have previous form, invading the French motorways eight times since April, leading to more than 80 arrests. One of the people in the road on Tuesday also invaded a court at Roland-Garros last month, forcing play to be stopped.

"I figured it was some kind of climate protest, if they're on the floor," Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), another member of the breakaway, said. "You know that almost straight away. They're protesting about a good thing, but it's not great when it's in front of the Tour de France."

The actions are deliberately disruptive, though, like a strike.

"There was a guy with a flare who was coming into the road a little bit, and we were like oh that's a bit strange," Wright said. "Then we saw all the motorbikes stopped up in front with more red smoke everywhere. Your instant reaction is trying to get through it as quickly as you can, but you forget there's loads of cars that also need to get past. In the end it was actually horrible, stopping. 

"When you're riding at a nice tempo then you've got to stop and start again, we pretty much started pretty flat out immediately. It wasn't nice.

"I think if anything the stop helped Bettiol. It messed with everyone really a little bit. It's like when you stop at a café and go again, it's the same thing."

Tadej Pogačar

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While the break was confronted with the protest, and possibly the most affected by the pause, behind, the peloton also had to stop.

The group slowed behind motorbikes, coming to a complete pause once it was clear that the race would have to be neutralised for more than ten minutes.

"We had to stop and we did that," race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) said in his post-stage conference. "We saw police taking a few guys. It was a funny moment. I really don't know exactly what it was about. So nothing special."

The message might not have got through to the Slovenian that it isn't a particularly amusing subject, but he did not see much of the action.

"Only a couple minutes before we were due to stop I saw a couple of guys getting dragged away," Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) said. "At least we didn’t get pepper sprayed this time."

The Ineos Grenadiers rider was reference to the events of 2018, the year he won the Tour, when police attempts to contain a roadside protest backfired.

This time around, riders were merely inconvenienced while the protestors were moved on. The environment seems more important than a bike race in moments like this.

"I would prefer not to come to this. I would rather be with my grandfather, be quiet on my sofa watching the Tour de France, while the government does its job. But that's not the reality," one of the protestors, Alice, wrote in a press release.

“The reality is that the world to which politicians are sending us is a world in which the Tour de France can no longer exist. In this world, we will be busy fighting to feed ourselves and to save our families. Under these conditions we will face wars and mass starvation. We must act and enter into civil resistance today to save what remains to be saved. 

“What do you expect from me? That I stay on the roadside watching my life go by like I watch cyclists go by? No, I decided to act and interfere to avoid the worst episode of suffering and create a new world. Because everything can still change."

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