Stage 10 of the Tour de France was halted for 15 minutes on Tuesday after a group of climate activists blocked the road, protesting the “mad race towards the annihilation of our society”.
Controversially, Tour officials were involved in clearing the protestors off the road, with Sir Bradley Wiggins, who was on the back of a motorbike in his role as a Eurosport pundit, reporting that he had just seen a race director “get out of the car and stick a boot in” and that the protestors were “imbeciles”.
Wiggins added: “They don’t like this kind of stuff in France.”
The nine activists were from the group Dernière Rénovation. One wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “989 days to go”.
Some had tied themselves together by their necks using padlocks and chains and let off a pink flare as Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), who had escaped off the front of the day’s breakaway, approached with around 36km remaining of the stage from Morzine to Megève.
Bettiol and the rest of the break managed to pick their way through the chaos, but the race was soon neutralised.
The time gaps from Bettiol to the break, and from the break to the peloton, which was over seven minutes at the time of the neutralisation, were put back in after the road was cleared.
Dernière Rénovation also interrupted last month’s French Open semi-final between Marin Cilic and Casper Ruud. On that occasion a female activist wearing a T-shirt with the words “We have 1028 days left” tied herself to the net using a metal wire. She spent 40 hours in police custody but the image went viral.
The group, launched in February, calls on citizens to “engage in civil resistance” by conducting nonviolent disruptions.
On the Rénovation website, an activist called Alice, 32, explained why she got involved in Tuesday’s protest. “I would prefer it not to come to this,” she said. “I would rather be with my grandfather, sitting quietly on my sofa watching the Tour de France, while the government does its job. But this is not the reality.
“The reality is that the world towards which the politicians are sending us is a world in which the Tour de France will no longer be able to exist.
“In this world, we will be busy fighting to feed ourselves and to save our families. Under these conditions we will face mass wars and famines. We must act and enter into civil resistance today to save what remains to be saved.”
The Tour de France has a long history of protestors disrupting stages. The most famous saw French cycling great Bernard Hinault punch a striking shipyard worker in 1984.
The day had begun under a cloud with two more riders forced to leave the race after testing positive for Covid.
Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco) was the first rider named, but the second caused greater shockwaves as George Bennett (UAE Team Emirates), one of race leader Tadej Pogacar’s key mountain domestiques, was sent home.
Pogacar had already lost one of his team-mates to Covid earlier in the race.
It was later confirmed that yet another of Pogacar’s team-mates, Rafal Majka, had also tested positive, but was being allowed to continue as he had a “low viral load”.
The Tour announced that, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, media and VIP guests would from now on be banned from the team paddock at the start of each stage.
Stage 10 was eventually won from the break, with Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) beating Nick Schultz (BikeExchange-Jayco) in a photo finish at the top of the final climb.
Pogacar stayed in yellow, but only just, with German Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) rising to second overall, 11 seconds back, after gaining over eight minutes as part of the day’s breakaway.