Søren Wærenskjold is a 23-year-old Norwegian Tour de France and Grand Tour debutant. He was also the World U23 Time Trial Champion and not so long ago finished second overall behind Mathieu van der Poel at this year’s Baloise Belgium Tour. So he’s a hot talent.
But he turned down a recent contract offer from UAE Team Emirates in order to make “the morally and ethically right choice.”
“You are tempted,” Wærenskjold told Norwegian TV station TV2 of the UAE offer, instead opting to extend with Uno-X until at least 2026. “I know that Norwegians are not such a fan of the Emirates and such. Of course that played a part in my decision. You would rather make the morally and ethically right choice, and not put the salary above everything else.”
This is a rare sentiment expressed in the peloton. Usually, the labour situation is so precarious for riders, and the number of potentially questionable sponsors so numerous, that at one point or other in your career you may end up riding for a team backed by sovereign wealth funds. Criticising them publicly is a potential cowpat of unemployment into which you are slowly lowering your foot, or a trapdoor of hypocrisy if you end up signing later for such a team.
Uno-X, of course, is a chain of unmanned fuel stations throughout Norway and Denmark, and Norway itself is among the top-15 oil-and-gas producing nations in the world. While our reliance on personal motor vehicles hastens the collapse of our environment, it’s also a fact that their dominance makes driving a necessity for many people. There may be fewer moral questions surrounding Uno-X than TotalEnergies or Ineos, but there is a large sliding scale in the peloton of various sponsors’ moral purity.
Wærenskjold’s interview was soon picked up from Norwegian TV and transcribed into various languages, and no doubt made its way internally around the peloton.
“I didn’t know it was going to be that big,” Wærenskjold told Escape Collective of that original interview. “So I just said it because the culture we have in Norway where … I wouldn’t say [we are] woke because that’s kind of a negative word now, but they are not such a big a fan of the Emirates. And so it’s also because that you want to have a good reputation in your home country and you want to have support from from your own people. That’s a big part of it.
“For me personally, also, I care about it. It’s not that I’m such a moral and ethical guy. But of course, it played a part in that decision. But it wasn’t a huge thing for me. There you go,” he finishes that final question with a laugh.
“So, do you slightly regret making that statement?” I ask Wærenskjold.
“Yeah, but it’s already done,” he admits. “So then I just tried to keep quiet after that. But of course, journalists also always love when you’re talking about such things. So maybe I should have just kept quiet. But you see it in all kinds of sports, that there is maybe some dirty money. That’s how it is, but it’s not like … I raced in [the] Saudi Tour. So it’s not that I’m thinking about it all the time.”
Does he worry that being so open about his personal beliefs could backfire one day?
“Yeah, probably it [would] pay if I didn’t have any other offers. But UAE is one of the best teams. If you look on the sports side of it, they are one team you want to ride on. The money part, maybe not the cleanest, but I can totally understand why people go there. It’s not like I’m judging anyone.”
What there is no doubt about is that Wærenskjold is brave for speaking his mind, even if he maybe wishes now that he’d have stayed quiet.
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