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The riders of the Tour de France have come together in solidarity with the only black rider in the race, B&B Hotels-Vital Concept's Kévin Reza, to denounce racism during the final stage to Paris on Sunday. The idea came after Reza gave an interview with Eurosport on Saturday and Cyclingnews this week expressing doubts that cycling could change.
Reza started the final stage on the front of the race because he is from Yvelines, where the stage started, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which started in the United States after the deaths of numerous Black people at the hands of police, in particular the death of George Floyd which sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world this summer.
The topic is personal for Reza, who has been the subject of racist abuse from at least one other rider - Gianni Moscon, who was punished by his team by being kept from racing for six weeks. He told Cyclingnews this week he didn't see a lot of solidarity from the peloton as a whole.
Reza expressed relief to see the peloton finally addressing the issue on Sunday. "It took the longest uphill run to get the message across. I hadn't been able to express myself clearly on this subject," he said in a team press release. "It's nice to see positive reactions. ASO allows me today to deliver the message by taking the start in the first row.
"There is still a lot of work to be done. It's a good start. I hope the movement will continue after the Tour de France. We'll have to keep going and see what we can do. It's difficult to talk about it, to be understood – one wrong word and it can be distorted. Today I feel capable and free to talk about it. I simply want to. I am thinking about what to do about it and I will try to do it properly with strong guidelines. It's a relief for me because I wasn't able to talk about it a few years ago when I was younger."
Tejay van Garderen (EF Pro Cycling) said he was proud to be a professional cyclist. "I'm really proud of the riders and the stance we're taking. Hopefully this can be a movement and not a moment."
Reza said in the interview with Eurosport that he hoped racist incidents would be taken seriously if they happened in cycling but he was pessimistic the sport would change.
"I'm not waiting for a revolt in the peloton because I know there won't be one," he said, adding that there were people who wanted to make changes in cycling "but they gave up". "It shows that cycling isn't ready to evolve in that way."
Cycling's history as a predominantly European, white sport has been slow to evolve, but over the past few decades numerous South Americans have found acceptance and success. The progress has been slower for Black riders even after Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first Black rider to stand on the Tour de France podium when he wore the polka dot jersey for four stages.
Since then, however, Teklehaimanot has left the team that is now NTT Pro Cycling, racing a season with Cofidis then vanishing from the pro peloton, and NTT have come to the Tour de France without any of their Black riders.
In his interview on Saturday, Reza said his teammates hadn't discussed the topic of racism with him and he hoped they would follow the news. "We don't talk about it much and I think it's a pity because it's been in the news for months. I don't know if they missed this news or if they don't want to talk about it. But it starts from there, follow the news."
Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) agreed that the riders have been in a bubble - both to protect against COVID-19 and also isolated from world events. With Paris on the horizon, he said the riders' union decided "to give some support to the people who are battling to make the world a bit more of an equal place".
Van Garderen added: "We realized we're the only professional sport that hasn't done anything" to denounce racism. "We needed to change that... It's a problem that affects the whole world. It's not just a problem in one sport, one walk of life, or one country; it's something that affects us all and it's something that needs to be stamped out. As cyclists we don't tolerate intolerance."