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How one race is trying to zero out emissions

Tour Luxembourg race director Andy Schleck commissioned a study to measure the race's total carbon footprint, which revealed some interesting conclusions.

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Bikes are thought of as a green mode of transportation, but a bike race and all the vehicles around it can almost at first glance seem like the antithesis of sustainability.

The cycling community is starting to take its environmental impacts and carbon footprint seriously.

From the Tour de France to the UCI, professional cycling is trying to lighten its collective burden. Whether it’s limiting where riders can discard trash or toss plastic bottles along the stage route, it’s a start.

No race, however, is rolling up its collective sleeves like the Skoda Tour Luxembourg.

Organizers are determined to reduce the event’s emissions, and this summer it became one of the first major sporting events in the world to conduct a comprehensive study of its total carbon footprint.

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Before it can reduce emissions and environmental impacts, the race first needed to better understand exactly what the carbon footprint truly is during the five-day race.

Race director and former pro Andy Schleck linked up with nZero, a company that tracked overall environmental impacts before, during, and after the race.

“There can be no progress without first measuring the level at which you’re currently operating, and that’s the step we took with the race this year,” Schleck said.

“While we had certain rules and avoided emissions initiatives in place, such as cyclists getting fined for discarding used water bottles on the course, we needed data so we can lower our footprint at a larger scale,” Schleck said. “nZero helped us track carbon emissions and our other eco-minded efforts and optimize race operations so that both the race organization and the cycling teams can work towards a more sustainable future.”

nZero’s team looked across the entire process of the bike race, including from where riders and staffers traveled to and from to get the race, and then took a hard look at what happens during the five days of racing.

A study of the 2022 edition revealed that nearly one-third of total event emissions were attributable to riders and staffers traveling to and from the event.

The team tracked emissions not only from the bike teams, but also suppliers and vendors. nZero determined that greenhouse gas emissions for the five-day cycling event was 91.1 MT CO2e1.

Officials said that is “equivalent to driving about 226,000 miles (363,712km) in a passenger car, or nine trips around the world.”

They determined that combining the travel impacts of vendors and the participating teams, and adding in GHG emissions generated during the event from all vehicles across race support, broadcasting, freighting of goods, transportation rises to account for 85% of the total event GHG emissions.

“This highlights the importance of the type of transportation being used in such sporting events,” officials said.

Team Arkéa-Samsic, the French second-tier team, was given special recognition in the study because several of its riders and staffers arrived by train instead of in vehicles or planes.

The team utilized 61% of its travel to and from the event by train. This helped them reduce their total emissions by over 75% compared to traveling by air, and resulted in the team having the lowest carbon emissions during the race, the study said.

In contrast, team vehicles, which include buses and mechanic’s trucks, represented nearly a quarter of the travel emissions despite only being used for 9% of total travel, the study found.

One of the largest sources came from the helicopters broadcasting the race, which accounted for 17% of transportation emissions and more than 8% of the total event GHG emissions.

nZero suggested that the race could insist on the use of electric or hybrid vehicles, and encourage vendors to use biodiesel or other fuels blends that reduce impacts.

It even suggested that more chicken be served in the VIP areas than beef because poultry has a smaller carbon footprint than beef.

“By becoming one of the first sporting events on the world stage to track carbon emissions and set transparent benchmarks and goals, Škoda Tour Luxembourg 2022 is leading the professional cycling industry,” said Adam Kramer, CEO of nZero. “Not just understanding our collective carbon footprint with more accurate data, but decreasing it and our overall climate impact”

The 2023 Tour Luxembourg is scheduled for September 20-24.

Riders during the 2022 Tour Luxembourg, which was the focus of a study on the race’s carbon footprint. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)