For a few months, Anthony Roux has been now frequently cycling with a bag on his back. Not to carry his picnic around, but to fill it with all kinds of waste he comes across during his ride. He named this recent initiative “mon parcours propre” (my clean route), and agreed to talk about it more deeply in this interview.
Anthony, as December is looming, is the preparation already underway?
Absolutely. I calmly returned on the bike two weeks ago. My offseason plan has been established for a few years now. I have a routine in terms of winter preparation. I switch between mountain biking, road, running and swimming. I have always done that, except for mountain biking that I only introduced last year. Mentally, it’s nice to switch from one to the other. For now, I’m looking for the right feelings, like every winter. My legs hurt, but it’s like that for everyone. On the other hand, lights are green from a health point of view so all is good.
“Is that bottle still there?!”
Is the weather still good in the south of France?
When I see how it is elsewhere, I think I’m quite good here. For sure, I don’t miss my native region (Lorraine, editor’s note) in winter (smiles). It rains quite regularly here, but I’m not going to complain. The temperature still is between 13 and 20 degrees. When it rains, it is therefore not super cold, and when it is not raining, I have beautiful days in which I can almost ride with bib shorts. It’s nice to resume in these conditions.
What about the roadside’s state?
It’s never great after summer. Holidaymakers leave a lot of garbage in July/August. Then in September, we realize that a lot of rubbish has accumulated. I have taken to cleaning up a bit the roads that I love, but I just can’t pick everything up on my own. I saw the departmental workers clean as well. After the summer, there is some work to be done.
So let’s talk about your initiative: “mon parcours propre”. When was it born?
It started last winter. 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. 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 to say it 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.
What changed then?
For some time, I kept seeing the same bottle in the same place. It was a glass bottle of beer. I saw it once, twice, three times… The 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?!” 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. I put it in my pocket and was glad it wasn’t there the next day. Then I thought about taking a bag every now and then, when rides aren’t important, and challenging myself to make my route as clean as possible. My son also started to like it. He was happy to pick up trash when we were going for a ride together. Seeing him proud of his daddy gave me even more motivation.
“If everybody had their clean route, everything would be clean”
Is this concern for nature recent for you?
No, I’ve always been into it. For instance, I have always done this kind of gesture at sea. I have always loved the seabed and been aware of the impact of plastic on dolphins, turtles. It interested me already as a child. My father was a fire-fighter but also a diver. 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. I also did it on beaches. As soon as I came to live here with my girlfriend, we would clean the coves in the winter so that they would be even nicer to put the towel in during spring or summer. Despite all that, I never had this habit on the roads. I thought it was complicated. On the bike, you go pass quickly. 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.
Why did you come up with the idea of sharing your initiative?
It was quite a natural process. I told myself: “why not aim a little higher?” My Twitter account was at a standstill as I’m not really into social media. I was about to close it, but I figured it was better to transform it, do something with it. I also approached the Bormes-les-Mimosas City Hall at the start of the year. They also had an on-going project and it matched up well. They were also interested in using my image. For me, it was also a way to make things transparent for the city, but also to get some support, especially to make a video. It also seemed logical to warn them as the course I wanted to clean mostly belonged to the town. Unfortunately, I crashed in early March. The project therefore ran late. It eventually fell into place sometime in the summer. It’s quite recent after all. Now, there is a mark on social media and I try to publish things every now and then. I am not extremely regular, but I don’t do it to be known. The purpose is that by seeing me getting my hands dirty, people start doing it too.
Can you explain more precisely the concept and the objective of this project?
A lot of things can be done regarding the environment, but I realize that a lot are not. Obviously, the ultimate aim would be not to throw things away. If we don’t throw away, there is nothing to pick up. Unfortunately, people throw things away, that’s how it is. Some associations sometimes get together for collect days, but they’re not a lot. As for me, I just wanted to use sport, physical activity, to make a contribution. 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. I created mine, which is the one I do on recovery days. It bothered me to see it dirty, so I challenged myself to “clean” it. In the end, it is as if everyone was responsible for their route, the one they designed and chose. It can be once a week, once a month, everything is worth taking. A jogger would lose fifteen minutes for an hour-long run, but his or her course will be clean the next day. The same goes for a couple or a family going for a walk on Sunday. It can even positively influence children. Can you imagine the number of clean paths and roads if everyone on earth took care of their own route? Yet, it starts from nothing. My route is sixty-kilometre long. If I take my bag and pick up the trash, I waste thirty minutes, which is almost nothing out of an entire day. On the contrary, it is a nice gesture that will automatically give you something in return.
“The point is precisely not to be discouraged”
Isn’t the practical action precisely what discourages people?
Myself, I do admit that I only started it late because I thought it was a pain. Our lives became so easy nowadays that picking up a paper got complicated. We also 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. 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. Just because someone made a mistake doesn’t mean you can’t fix it. Obviously, riding for two hours with a pack on your back is not very pleasant. Some people also want to look good on their bikes, so that will annoy them. You have to stop, unclip, pick up things, and put them in the bag. However, for example, it was so dirty in September that I would sometimes turn around after five kilometers. I never finished my ride without the bag being full. The collecting time is ultimately not that long because there is so much garbage that you do not stop fifty times. It’s not that annoying, after all, and I’m not saying one should do it every week. But when you do and you come home, you feel happy and tell yourself that you haven’t wasted your time. It also feels good mentally speaking.
Do you have any idea of how many times you’ve done it thus far?
I did not count. It’s been about a year, but I didn’t do it every week as I was sometimes in a race or in training camp. I think I might have done 20 rides or something. With a twenty-litre bag, it might then be a total waste of 400-500 litres since the beginning. Now, I would like to further develop the initiative with the Town Hall and create full days of collection, by bike or on foot. That would be a good way to do a hell of a clean-up. It would be great to get to this point.
Have you noticed the impact of your own cleaning over the past few months?
Only in some periods. I noticed the difference before summer, but I wasn’t home too much between July and September. So when I got back to it when I returned from the Vuelta, I told myself that everything I had done before was pointless. 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. If you think about it this way, it will never move forward.
“You also do it for yourself”
Has your initiative been followed by some of the public?
Not as much as I could have imagined. People are very supportive, but not that many are taking action while it’s actually the point. When I did the jersey contest on Twitter, it was also because people were starting to ask me if I had any clothes left. I preferred to make it a prize. I even added a Vuelta bib. But in the end, very few people played along, I barely got ten answers. It saddened me a bit to witness that many people were asking for a jersey, but not so many tried to get it by picking up papers and sending me a video. What motivates me, however, is that a lot of young guys played along. It was nice to see. The downside is that the enthusiasm is not what I imagined. The good thing is that the younger generation is motivated. Maybe I had too much expectation… At the time, it upset me a bit, but that doesn’t mean I will stop doing it. I do it first for myself and for nature. If I’m talking about it, it’s just to get things moving a bit and use my little image to encourage people to make a gesture. Many complain but do not do anything. On ecology, as on other topics, many bark and say that it is not right at all. But who really acts?
Every little gesture is worth making, that’s your message?
Absolutely. Now, I also have habits myself. 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. Even if I do only that during the day, that’s already something. What if everyone did that? I just encourage small gestures. I know it is difficult to aim big like others. Rather, I call for everyone to do a little something every day. The project also made sense to me since we are in a rather individualistic society. Indeed, by cleaning up your route, it makes your own route visually interesting and pleasant. In short, you also do it for yourself, without talking about ecology. It is also in your own interest. Appearance has become important now. More and more people are riding with nice equipment, nice kits… If you want to be classy while doing sports, why wouldn’t you do sports in a classy environment, meaning a clean one? At the end of the day, it’s good for everyone.
On the same topic, and to conclude, what do you think of the new “littering” system in professional cycling?
Honestly, it’s very well done. I’m convinced by the new rules. It’s still just the beginning though, and sometimes we’re not sure where the waste zones are, and when we can throw away our papers. In some races, I wasn’t sure where I was so I relied on others. Sometimes we just have a little sign announcing the green zone and we can miss it. Perhaps we should have clearer signals. Apart from that, it’s a real step forward. It’s also funny to see guys playing the win with a can of Coke in their pocket for forty kilometers. I think the peloton is playing along, and we’re actually closely watched. I even took two fines on the Vuelta, although I am very careful. I wasn’t sure where the area was. It also changes from race to race. I’m not ashamed to say that I got two fines in the Vuelta, but on the other hand, I was devastated. It was a blow, really. On the other hand, I was happy because it also shows that the matter is taken seriously. We are on the right path.