Tour Down Under director 'hopes environmental protesters don’t impede the race'

Stuart O'Grady says he respects environmental groups rights to protest but voices safety concerns

Stuart O'grady gets the riders of the Tour Down Under underway
(Image credit: Tim de Waele / Getty )

Race director Stuart O’Grady hopes environmental protestors campaigning against Tour Down Under naming rights sponsor Santos of the will keep demonstrations friendly and not impede on the safety of riders. 

Santos is one of Australia’s biggest domestic gas suppliers and, according to the company website a leading LNG supplier in the Asia Pacific region. It has sponsored the Tour Down Under as a naming rights partner since 2010.

The women’s tour commenced on Sunday with stage one to Aldinga, which Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health) won, with no apparent interruptions, however, an older demographic of protestors has been visible around the event hub in central Adelaide. 

On Saturday male and female demonstrators took the streets around the Schwalbe Classic to promote their cause, distributing flyers to bystanders and holding large signs that brandished #BreakAwayFromGas slogans. 

The protestors, according to a distributed flyer, are part of Fossil Free SA, a self-described “grassroots climate action group”. 

“Affiliated with the global movement we are standing up to the fossil fuel industry to address the climate crisis,” one of their black and white flyers handed out at the classic read. 

“We’re calling on the organiser Events SA to end Santos’ sponsorship of the TDU and find a new green sponsor.

“It is appalling that a major cycling event, held in a state which is a world leader in renewable energy, is sponsored by a polluting fossil fuel company.” 

O’Grady, speaking in a press conference on Saturday, said race organisers were following what protesters had been publicly announcing of their movements. 

“My only hope is that they don’t impede on the race,” O’Grady said. 

“Everyone has got their right to their own opinion, to protest, do what they may, but I don’t think blocking the cycling tracks and getting on course would be very wise. And if that starts becoming a liability or a danger to the riders then that’s going to escalate it to a whole other level and that wouldn’t be good for anybody. 

Stuart O'Grady at the 2023 Tour Down Under

(Image credit: Tim de Waele / Getty )

“At the end of the day, the guys and girls made a big commitment to put on a sporting event, put a lot of time and energy into this, and hopefully they can respect that.”

It’s not the first time protesters have tried to promote and further their cause at a pro cycling event. The Tour de France came to a temporary holt last year when race officials dragged young climate activists off the race route during stage 10.

A Tour Down Under spokeswoman in a statement on Sunday said the long-standing partnership with Santos had been particularly important to the women’s three stage-race.

“In 2018 the Santos Tour Down Under became the first race in the world to offer men and women equal prize money for stage wins,” the statement read.

“This year, the race has been elevated to a UCI Women’s WorldTour event, and every stage will be broadcast.

“This is incremental growth in women’s cycling is possible thanks to the support of our partners, particularly Santos.”

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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.