There should be no more flying in Grand Tours

In the age of climate crisis, no race organiser should create an event that means air travel will be used

Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Adam Becket
Adam Becket

Senior news and feature writer at Cycling Weekly, Adam brings his weekly opinion on the goings on at the upper echelons of our sport. 

This piece is part of The Leadout, the offering of newsletters from Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Leadout. Remember, you can email me at adam.becket@futurenet.com should you wish to, and forward this onto your friends if they’re the right kind of person, or maybe if they’re not too. Fun!

What connected the 2022 Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España? No, not stage wins for a particular team or rider, or even locations, but the fact that all three required the race to get on a plane for logistical reasons part way through.

The Giro, Tour and Vuelta began in foreign countries - Hungary, Denmark and the Netherlands, respectively - while the Vuelta also used air travel to cross the empty middle of Spain. This year, while the Tour took a break from flights, the Giro and Vuelta still used planes partway through the race, and at least the Giro will do the same again next year. It is ludicrous.

The unveiling of the 2025 Tour de France Grand Départ was a welcome return to normality, a Tour which begins in France and should hopefully stick to terra firma for the whole three weeks, but it might still be the exception. 2024’s Giro might wholly stay inside Italy, well apart from a brief Swiss excursion, but the riders and whole infrastructure will still be flying down from the Alps to Rome for the final stage.

We don’t need to get into specifics on the climate crisis, and more pertinently, pro cycling’s part in it, but we all are aware of how dire everything is, and how quickly our behaviours need to change to rein it back in. COP28 is currently running in the UAE, as our world leaders seek to restrict global warming to 1.5C, and cycling should be doing its bit too.

The UCI’s mandate for WorldTour teams and races to reduce their carbon emissions by 50% in 2030, and to be carbon neutral, is welcome. But more specific measures should be taken.

The benefits of air travel in a Grand Tour are clear: they open up new parts of the world to race organisers, whether that’s cycling heartlands like the Tour in Denmark, or spreading the sport wider, as the Giro did in Israel a few years ago. It also allows for a race to visit more places in a single edition, to cover more of the country that the Grand Tour seeks to display. 

The Giro isn’t flying from the Alps to Rome just for fun, I understand that - it clearly feels financially and culturally imperative that the race finishes there - but with 21 stages, surely the Grand Tours can arrange themselves to provide excitement without having to resort to planes.

The Vuelta often flies the race across Spain to cover more of its territory, but where is the rule that says that it has to go to all of Spain? Why couldn’t one edition focus on more of the north of the country, and the next one in the south? It is time for fresh answers to old problems. 

The environmental impact of these races is enough already - with the publicity caravan, the procession of team buses and cars, the infrastructure and the fans - without air travel too. It feels like a luxury from a bygone area.

Grand Départs, big starts, or whatever you want to call them, should be restricted to neighbouring countries, places that you can cross by road. This might seem punitive on the Vuelta and the Giro, countries at the end of Europe, but there is enough within the borders of Italy and Spain to provide three weeks of entertainment.

After the time of excess, we should seek to keep within our means, and that means keeping Grand Tours grounded. Time for the UCI to step in and show its mettle.

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