Great Britain’s Owain Doull questioned why environmental activists would target a bike race after a protest caused a delay of almost one hour to the men’s elite road race at the UCI Cycling World Championships.
Police Scotland made five arrests, with Scottish environmental group This Is Rigged claiming responsibility for the incident during the flagship race of these 10-day championships.
The protesters glued themselves to the road on a narrow stretch of the B818 west of Falkirk, close to the Carron Valley Reservoir, with police needing to use a special solvent to remove them from the road before the race could continue.
Welshman Doull had been one of nine riders in a breakaway, seven minutes clear of the main peloton, when they were told by race officials to stop.
Asked if he felt it was right for protesters to target sports events, the 30-year-old said: “In my opinion, no.
“I don’t know what the protest was about, presumably it was climate-related, but it’s a cycling world championships and cycling is probably one of the best vehicles to help with that, so from my side, no. There’s also the safety element.”
In a statement, This Is Rigged pointed to the number of oil companies involved in sponsoring major cycling teams.
During the long hold-up, French rider Julian Alaphilippe took the opportunity to pose for a selfie with a race official, while fellow former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski sat cross-legged on the floor, with others keeping warm in team cars.
“I found myself sat in the race director’s car eating Bakewell tarts,” Doull said. “It was a bizarre day in that sense…
“(We didn’t know) much, we literally saw the car stopped and we had to stop. The protest was going on ahead, they said it was going to take probably half an hour so we bundled into whatever car was nearest and bunkered down until we could get going again…
“But the race had also practised this as a scenario so it was pretty organised, pretty drilled.”
With protests having been a regular feature at major sporting events throughout the summer, there was little surprise to see these championships also affected, particularly given the near-impossibility of securing the full length of a route that takes place on rural country roads.
“I think you almost end up factoring it in,” Doull said. “It’s something I thought about before the race. Realistically with everything going on there was a fair chance it was going to happen and in fairness to the race organisers there’s not much they can do.
“The (protesters) picked a really good part of the course to do it. They must have done a recon and it was the narrowest point in the course and pretty isolated, but at the end of the day it didn’t affect the race that much.”
With the protest taking place on such a narrow stretch of road, the riders had to make way for police vans to try to make their way through to deal with the incident.
When the race did finally resume, the riders could be seen passing over large white patches on the road surface where the protest had taken place.
Doull and his breakaway companions were given a head-start to reclaim their seven-minute advantage on the approach to the Crow Road climb but, as expected, that gap quickly tumbled once they got into Glasgow itself.
Doull was Britain’s best-placed finisher in the race, coming in 18th as Mathieu Van Der Poel took the world title on the damp streets of Glasgow.