Women's Tour of Scotland 2019: The cycling race aiming to be the world's first climate-positive sports event

Lawrence Ostlere

On an August morning later this summer, some of the best cyclists in the world will roll across the Tay Road Bridge between Dundee and Fife clad in nothing but plastic bottles. Six, to be precise, the number needed to create the world’s most environmentally friendly jerseys for a groundbreaking bike race.

The jerseys, designed by sportswear brand Scimitar, are just one of the many unusual aspects of the new UCI European Tour race called the Women’s Tour of Scotland, which organisers have promised will be the world’s first climate-positive sports event by the time its second edition comes around in 2020.

They have drawn up ambitious plans to aggressively cut emissions and nullify their impact on the planet, aiming for zero waste to landfill, recycling and reusing plastic bottles on the road and discouraging suppliers from using diesel generators. Every detail will be monitored, recorded and reduced each year.

This will be no easy task. Around 2% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions come from live events, with music and sport the biggest contributors. While the cyclists themselves are spreading the gospel on two wheels, the anticipated 100,000 spectators over the three-day stage race will leave behind a heavy footprint.

An experienced team has been assembled to direct the project. Their biggest challenge has not been costs or technology, but convincing suppliers and partners to buy in to the plans, and perhaps this is where they have felt the effects of a broader societal shift, a kind of cultural guilt-trip that has every stakeholder wanting to be seen playing its part.

“We’re getting that buy-in so far from suppliers, this is something they want to do,” says Luke Howell, who brings experience working on other major events, including Glastonbury Festival. “It shows the times are changing. More and more of our brands organisations are engaged in a way they haven’t been before.

“It’s big news now, consumers are more aware, businesses are more aware, and people actually want to be seen doing something about it.”

The race aims to break ground in other ways, too. It is the first UCI stage race to begin life as a women’s event, and will pay its riders exactly the same prize money as a men’s equivalent. And the hope is, that along with the UCI World Championships coming to Scotland in 2023, they can lure more Scots on to bikes in day-to-day life.

“From a Scottish perspective, it’s a big national priority in terms of moving towards a low-carbon economy,” says Esther O’Callaghan, the race’s head of legacy and development. “Cyclists tend to be more environmentally friendly, so we’re hoping to galvanise people by that.”

There are numerous other events in cycling and wider sport making significant steps to cut emissions and minimise their mark on the planet, but retrofitting is hard; from a standing start, the Tour of Scotland hopes to achieve something unique – “a wholesale approach: production, race, spectators, suppliers, everything,” says O’Callaghan – and in the process, set a new bar for others to aim at.

“What we’re doing can certainly be replicated around other events,” says Howell. “Once we’ve shown we can do it on this event, there’s no reason why it can’t be done elsewhere.”