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Tour de France riders made a gesture Sunday morning to denounce racism, arriving to the start line of stage 21 in Mantes-La-Jolie with the slogan ‘No To Racism’ written on their COVID-19 safety masks.
Cameras focused in on the slogans as the riders performed interviews and amassed in the starting paddock before the beginning of the stage.
The gesture was reportedly organized by the riders themselves over the past few days, with the riders’ union CPA also contributing to the decision to wear the slogan.
“I think the Tour de France is the biggest scene to show some respect and do an action like this,” said Wout van Aert prior to the stage. “Until now we saw a lot of actions in other sports, but cycling was not yet at the moment. I think it’s good we bring this message. I wrote it in the biggest letters I could because I’m totally behind this message.”
American Tejay van Garderen said riders approached him several days ago and asked him his opinion on how cycling could make a statement against racism. Riders had recognized that pro cycling was among the only sports to have not made a statement or gesture to denounce racism.
“We needed to change that,” van Garderen said.
Van Garderen said there was a chat with riders and members of the CPA, and after several days of discussion and brainstorming, the group came up with the idea for the slogan on the masks.
“It’s a problem that impacts the whole world. It’s not just a problem in one sport or one way of life or one country,” van Garderen said. “I’m proud of the riders and the stance we’re taking, and hopefully this can be a movement and not a moment.”
The move came several days after French rider Kévin Reza, the only Black rider in the 2020 Tour de France, gave an interview to Eurosport in which he addressed the Tour de France’s silence on prejudice and racism throughout the 2020 edition. Over the past months multiple professional sports have made public gestures and statements to denounce racism.
The National Basketball Association has printed ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court for all regular-season and playoff games. In other sports, players have knelt during national anthems, or wore apparel emblazoned with slogans promoting anti-racism groups such as Black Lives Matter.
“Cycling is a very old sport and to change old ideas is very difficult,” Reza said in an interview. “I would hope if any racist incidents happened today they would be very seriously punished, but I’m not waiting for a revolt in the peloton because I know there won’t be one.”
When asked about cycling’s predominantly white peloton, and the sport’s struggles to bring riders with more racially diverse backgrounds into the peloton, Reza said that people have tried in the past, but they gave up because of the inherent hurdles found in the sport.
“It’s complicated. It’s difficult to make certain people understand that cycling needs to be refreshed, like other sports, because there are lots of sports that are changing and progressing with regard to racism,” Reza added. “And certainly, cycling has a lot to learn and is really far behind in that regard.”