Anthony Roux , riding against the current. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This pro is improving the world, one training ride at a time

Anthony Roux saw a beer bottle on the roadside, and couldn't ignore it.

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Anthony Roux has had a long professional career working in the service of others. In his 14 years with the Groupama-FDJ squad, he’s rarely appeared at the top of a results sheet. His two biggest wins bridge a decade between them – a Vuelta a España stage in 2009, and a French national road championship in 2018 – and the rest of the time, he’s been a reliable cog in the bigger mechanism of a WorldTour team; no avid self-promoter, no flashy social media presence. 

But as he prepares for the 2022 season, Roux is stepping into the spotlight to try and make the world a slightly better place. 

From a bottle to a beginning

It started last winter with a glass beer bottle. “I kept seeing the same bottle in the same place,” Roux says. “I saw it once, twice, three times – my brain was almost getting used to it. As I would ride past, I would instinctively check if it was still there. And every time I was like: ‘it’s still here?!’”

Roux identifies himself as something of an environmentalist, and the bottle by the roadside niggled at him as he whooshed past on his Lapierre. Finally, that galvanised into action. “At one point I told myself, ‘instead of thinking about it, pick it up, and it won’t be there tomorrow’. It just started like that,” Roux says. “I put it in my pocket and was glad it wasn’t there the next day.

“I could have started it earlier, but the real step forward, that of ‘getting my hands dirty’, came very late. I had been thinking about it for a while,” Roux elaborates.

“When I looked at the side of the road, I was disgusted to ride in these unpleasant sceneries. And riding is my job, that’s what I do every day. For a long time, like most people, I would complain but would not take action. Many agree [that the litter] is horrible, unacceptable. I was saying that too. Yet, I would not stop in order to pick up a piece of paper and put it in the trash.”

That beer bottle was a catalyst, leading to another, and another, and Roux began thinking of taking a backpack with him on his less-structured training rides: “challenging myself to make my route as clean as possible.” 

An environmental conscience

Roux credits his father as instilling an environmental conscience in him – “My father was a fire-fighter but also a diver,” he explains. “I remember that when we were swimming together, he already had this gesture of picking things up in the water and bringing them back. I got initiated very young, so I have always had this approach regarding the sea.”

He has, he says, always loved the seabed and had an awareness of the impact of plastic on marine life. Roux has also developed a particular affinity for turtles, with some babies that rival Thibaut Pinot’s cows for adorability.

Roux admits that transitioning that ecological approach to land – especially when his job frequently requires him to go past rubbish as rapidly as possible – was a leap.

“I thought it was complicated,” he says. “You don’t stare at it like you do on the beach. On the bike, you also wonder where to put it, although it can be very simple. Still, I was not thinking about it. It bothered me, but that didn’t mean I was doing anything, despite my background.”

Roux understands the factors that lead to inaction, because he’s been in the same position. “We say to ourselves: People shouldn’t throw it away, it’s not for me to pick it up’. Or, someone else is going to do it.’ Even though we know very well that it will never be picked up, depending on where it is located,” he explains.

“It’s easy to say: ‘he’s stupid for throwing it away.’ Yeah, but you’re kind of stupid too not to pick it up,” he continues. “Just because someone made a mistake doesn’t mean you can’t fix it.”

Roux rides to the conclusion of Stage 15 at the 2019 Tour de France. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Mon parcours propre (‘My clean route’)

In collaboration with his local commune – Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the Cote-d-Azur, between Nice and Marseilles – Roux resolved to try and lead by example, launching an initiative: “mon parcours propre”. The initiative aims to encourage cyclists and runners to take little steps to make their training routes a better place, one piece of rubbish at a time. 

“I told myself: ‘why not aim a little higher?'” Roux began a collaboration with Bormes-les-Mimosas City Hall, which has seen a small social media campaign, a team interview (from which these quotes are extracted), and a video:

“I just wanted to use sport, physical activity, to make a contribution … The purpose is that by seeing me getting my hands dirty, people start doing it too,” Roux explains. “The goal is very simple. It’s about creating your own route, either by bike or on foot, and making it as clean as possible. I just tell myself that if everybody had their clean route, everything would be clean.”

Roux estimates that he’s been out on around 20 rubbish-gathering rides, using the 60 km route he uses for his recovery rides, with a 20-litre backpack on his back. 

“Obviously, riding for two hours with a pack on your back is not very pleasant,” Roux admits. “You have to stop, unclip, pick up things, and put them in the bag. However, for example, it was so dirty in September [his collections had taken a break from July due to a racing block, including the Vuelta a España –ed.] that I would sometimes turn around after five kilometres. I never finished my ride without the bag being full.” 

Anthony Roux at the 2021 Vuelta a España. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Roux admits that the task sometimes feels endless. “When I got back to it when I returned from the Vuelta, I told myself that everything I had done before was pointless,” he says. “[But] if we want to see the glass as half full, I can also think that it would have been twice as bad. It’s endless work, it’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t demoralize me. The point is precisely not to be discouraged.

“I don’t want to act like I did before and say it’s useless,” Roux continues. “If you think about it this way, it will never move forward.” There’s still rubbish by the roadside of the French Riviera and there probably always will be, but thanks to Roux’s collections, he estimates that there is now 400-500 litres less of it since he began his initiative. 

It’s also sparked a couple of small but significant changes in Roux’s life. Just as his father passed on a desire to leave the world in a better place, Roux has used this as an avenue to lead by example, doing the same with his own children. “My son also started to like it,” Roux says. “He was happy to pick up trash when we were going for a ride together [and] seeing him proud of his daddy gave me even more motivation.”

At a personal level, Roux’s initiative has grown to encompass a more mindful approach to ecology off the bike as well as on. “Now I also have habits myself,” Roux says. “When I take the kids to school, if I see a piece of paper on the side of the road, I pick it up and put it in the trash can. I’m not OCD, but I just tell myself it’s stupid not to do it if it doesn’t cost me a thing.”

From little things, big things grow

The world is groaning under the ecological harm that humanity has done to it, with a rising understanding that the time for action is upon us. That action can come at a global level, at a federal level, at a corporate level – and, as Roux shows, all the way down to the individual.

Roux is a small figure in a big world, but he is trying to make a difference. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Even if he only picks up one piece of rubbish during a day, he says, “that’s already something. What if everyone did that?” The burden of the planet’s health is a hefty one if you feel its yours to bear alone, but by sharing it – through tiny changes, bottle by bottle, training route by training route – it becomes lighter. Or, in Roux’s words, “I know it is difficult to aim big like others, [so] I call for everyone to do a little something every day.”

In the face of a big problem, people can become paralysed into inaction, unable to see beyond the macro level. “Many complain but do not act,” Roux says. “[But] can you imagine the number of clean paths and roads if everyone on Earth took care of their own route? It starts from nothing.”

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