Cycling around town seems like a green, Earth-friendly way to get around. Professional cycle racing? Not so much.
Michael (Rusty) Woods is an Ottawa-raised professional cyclist who rides for UCI WorldTeam Israel Start-Up Nation. In a blog post this week, Woods pointed out the sharp contrast between environmentally friendly rides and what he does for a living.
"I fly to races regularly and have a convoy of cars and trucks following my every move," Woods wrote. "I sit on a massive bus at the end of each stage, and go through countless plastic bottles and packaged goods. I consume vast … quantities of meat, and go through far more clothing than the average person."
Woods, 34, has pledged to make 2021 a carbon-neutral season.
CBC Ottawa's All in a Day reached Woods at his training base in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains. The conversation is edited.
Why did you decide to do this — this year?
I've been a pro now for five years. I have obviously been aware of the environmental impact that we have as cyclists. But I just became more and more disappointed with how much I was contributing to environmental decline. Also, I had a baby girl last January. Her name is Max. Having a kid certainly changes your perspective and makes you realize what your impact is on the world and how you're going to affect the world that she lives in. I spent the better part of the last three months researching it and talking to The Gold Standard, which is a company that offers carbon offsets.
What are your sport's biggest impacts on the environment?
Easily the biggest impact is flying. You take a business-class flight from Europe to Australia for Tour Down Under, which is one of the big World Tour races. That's 10 tonnes of carbon emitted, when the average person living in the U.K. emits 11 tonnes per year. That's a massive impact. Having the whole peloton fly down to Australia certainly is a big contributor. Then there's the convoy that follows us every race. We have a support car in front of us and two cars following us. We'll have a van that's carrying staff to hand out bottles midway through the race. We'll have a food truck. We have a giant team bus that's only for the riders. There's only seven guys using this big coach bus. Finally, we have a big truck that houses all of our equipment, our extra bikes, spare parts and the mechanics. It's a massive convoy. Multiply that by 21 teams in a Grand Tour? It's a big, big environmental impact.
You obviously can't put everyone in that convoy on bikes. Can you become carbon neutral and still be competitive?
That's a great question, and I'm going to try and address it throughout the year. But it's not straightforward. I'm not going to live off grid. I have respect for people who do that, but I still want to continue being a professional cyclist. I still want to be competitive. So there are things that I'm going to continue doing that do have an impact on the environment. That's where the carbon offsets come in, with The Gold Standard. You can donate to a number of verified charities to offset your carbon. They're big on climate justice, and also creating equal opportunity for people and in Third World countries.
Cycling always seems to be recovering from a black eye around drug use. Are you getting any pushback from people who say, 'Why bring this up?'
Yes, I've had a bit of pushback. But actually it's been surprisingly positive. The main goal of this is not necessarily to drag cycling into the mud, but just bring awareness. I'm not perfect. I'm making mistakes. But I'm trying to change and I'm trying to affect change. That message is less intimidating and more inspiring. Take an audit of their actions and realize where they, too, can make change. That's the attitude that we all need to have. I don't think we're that far off from creating a zero-carbon economy. It's not that crazy to achieve. It just means that everyone has to make a bit more of a conscientious decision in how they consume things.
Carbon fibre has replaced aluminum in many of the components in high-end cycling, just as aluminum replaced steel. Does this pledge mean you have to buy offsets or avoid the use of carbon fibre in your equipment?
Unfortunately, at the moment, steel is not as light or as malleable as carbon, so it does produce a far less advantageous bike. It would certainly be a disadvantage. My big goal still is to win races. I want to do well in cycling. I have some big goals this season. One of my big goals is targeting a medal at the Olympic Games. If I'm on a bike that's holding me back, I'm not able to to spread this message. But I'm going to push my sponsors and my team to take audits of their practices. Certainly down the road, I'm going to have to even think about changing bikes.