There has been a glaring omission in the first week of the Tour de France.
For all the high-octane racing and phenomenally-sized crowds, there has been no mention to the fact that the deadliest war on European soil this century is still taking place just 1,700 direct kilometres from where the race began in Copenhagen.
Almost five months have passed since Russia, unprovoked, invaded Ukraine, and the horror and shock that was present at the war's onset has subsided. In spite of tens of thousands of military personnel and civilians losing their lives, cycling has kept quiet since the initial escalation, doing nothing since it stripped the rights of Russian and Belarusian teams, amongst other measures.
Now, as the world sits down to watch the biggest bike race of all, silence. Cycling’s put the war to the back of its collective mind, even against the backdrop of the death of two cycling coaches from Ukraine, one at the beginning of the war and one in May.
Cycling Weekly understands, meanwhile, that the heavily-sanctioned Russian oligarch Igor Makarov remains on the UCI's management committee, in spite of pressure to remove him. CW has asked the governing body multiple times for clarification on why he is still continuing in his role, but as of yet has not received a response.
On stage four of the Tour, there was a minute’s applause for the victims of the Copenhagen shopping centre attack last Sunday, but should it, in front of a worldwide audience, do a similar gesture opposing the war?
“There is no reason not to talk about it, especially while it’s still going on,” Toms Skujins told Cycling Weekly, the Trek-Segafredo rider having been vocal about the war since its inception. “It doesn’t need to be every day, but we should highlight it when we can.
“There’s definitely things we [as riders and a race] should do and it’d be great if we could have some sort of [stance]. If the war had started now, for sure we’d do something about it, but now it’s drifted to the back of people’s minds and it’s not as urgent for them anymore which is unfortunate," says the rider from Latvia, which shares a boarder with Russia.
“If we can remind politicians that we still care, think and worry about it, it gives them an incentive to do something about it. If people stop talking about the war, governments will think no-one cares about it anymore and they’ll focus on other things.”
Competing under a neutral flag, Russian rider Aleksandr Vlasov is leading Bora-Hansgrohe’s general classification ambitions in the race, while Belarusian rider Aleksandr Riabushenko is making his Tour debut for Astana.
Cycling Weekly asked Vlasov if he would support the race taking a stance showing its support against the war, to which the 26-year-old said: "Yeah, if they organise something, why not?"
Riabushenko, meanwhile, was reluctant to discuss the war, but did confirm that his family are unable to come and watch him by the roadside because of visa restrictions on his fellow compatriots due to sanctions.
Asked if he would approach Vlasov and Riabushenko to take part in a message showing support for Ukraine, Skujins responded: “Good question. I’m not very confrontational so it would be hard for me, but maybe that is something I should consider.”
CW has spoken to several riders in recent months with connections to Russia and its allies, all of whom have expressed a desire to be kept out of the news for fear of consequences for themselves and even their families back home.
Is any potential stance complicated by the duo's presence in the race? “It probably is, yeah,” added Skujins, who later said that he would bring up the subject with the CPA and Riders Union to try and bring about a move. “It would be interesting to see if we took a stance what would happen. How would those two riders respond?
“It’s hard to say how connected they are to their country, and they haven’t really spoken out about the issues so I am guessing that they are trying to keep both doors open. I would have hoped they would have spoken out a bit. But, they might get forced into one direction or the other. It’s not easy for them, either, especially if they are really against it.
“You have to remember that these people riding in the peloton do have families. We have seen what the Russian government can do to their own people with deportations and stuff. That’s scary, and we don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, or say something that might affect their families or friends that are back there.”
Skujins’ fellow Latvian, Israel-PremierTech’s Krists Neilands, shared his dejection, too. “It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century this kind of thing is happening in Europe. We have to talk about it. It’s super-close to my country, I see the news every day, and it’s so sad what’s going on.”
Cycling Weekly attempted to ask the Tour’s race director Christian Prudhomme ahead of stage five if there were any plans to take a position, but Prudhomme said that “as you know, there are 2,000 of you journalists on the race and I can’t answer every question. You need to speak with Fabrice [the race organiser’s press officer].”
Upon asking ASO, a spokesperson said: “No-one else has even asked this question.” By the time of publication, ASO had yet to provide any official statement.
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