Protests by anti-fracking campaigners expected as Tour de Yorkshire 2019 gets underway

Thousands of anti-fracking demonstrators are expected along the route of this year's Tour De Yorkshire to protest against the relaunch of one of the world's top cycling teams under its new sponsor petrochemicals firm Ineos.

Sheep painted in Tour de Yorkshire colours at Little Smeaton

Many are set to don face masks of Ineos co-founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe complete with devil’s horns, with the route due to pass through one of the locations where Ineos owns drilling licences in Yorkshire tomorrow.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Simon Bowens said Ineos' plans for fracking were "completely incompatible" with fighting climate change.

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He said: “Ineos is shameless in its hijacking of cycling to greenwash the terrible impact it has on our planet.

Harry Tanfield wins the Tour de Yorkshire, Stage 1, in Doncaster, last year.

"The company speaks of the virtues of pedal power while at the same time producing millions of tonnes of plastic each year and trying to drill and frack large swathes of the British countryside including right here in Yorkshire."Tobacco was banned from sports sponsorship due to the damaging health effects - this should also apply to fossil fuels which wreak havoc on the health of the planet.”

Jon and Val Mager, who moved from East Yorkshire to Brighton recently, were driving back up to Yorkshire today to take part in the protest armed with placards.

The anti-fracking campaigners said : "Last year Team Sky signed up to the Sky #passonplastic campaign to protect the oceans from plastic pollution.

"This year Team Ineos is funded by a millionaire tax exile who made his fortune by making plastic.

Team INEOS Owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe (left) with Chris Froome during a press conference to launch Team INEOS at The Fountaine Free in Linton, Yorkshire

"Ineos is on the record saying they want to frack 'on an industrial scale'.

"How is that consistent with the Tour de Yorkshire which is there to promote Yorkshire as a number one tourism destination?"

But speaking today, far from the public gaze at a remote pub in North Yorkshire, Sir Dave Brailsford defended the new owners of Team Ineos, formerly Team Sky.

Speaking alongside the Ineos chairman Sir Jim and four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, Brailsford said: "I'm not an expert in chemicals, I'm an expert in trying to make Chris ride his bike faster.

"But when I did come to educate myself I realised there's a very simplistic view and when you dive down into it and take the effort you can find out there's a very different view.

"I'm very comfortable with the situation we're in."

Ratcliffe defended his company's operations, saying Ineos have pioneered new methods of recycling plastic.

On fracking, he said the majority of environmental groups he has met with are "ignorant" of the facts, and said it was a cheap source of energy.

"I think it's outrageous the government have listened to a noisy, minuscule minority instead of looking at the science," he said.

North Yorkshire Police declined to comment.

Peter Dodd, Commercial Director, Welcome to Yorkshire said: “We understand the complex issues around fracking and remain in close contact with the National Parks and local authorities.

"As a tourism body we organise the Tour de Yorkshire to promote the county to a worldwide audience and have no control over the sponsorship of the teams taking part.

“We also recognise everyone’s right to protest peacefully and know that the vast majority of protestors very much support the Tour de Yorkshire and do not wish to spoil the race. We are working very closely with the Police to make sure the event passes off safely and peacefully.”

Both Friends of the Earth and Frack Free United, who are leading the protests, said they did not condone any disruption of the event.