The Tour de Yorkshire will be the first competitive outing for the new-look team on British shores but Ineos' takeover of Team Sky has been heavily criticised by environmental groups, concerned with Ineos' track record and involvement in fracking.
Steve Mason from Frack Free United, a network of groups that are opposed to fracking, told Cyclingnews that 15,000 masks depicting the face of Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe, complete with devil's horns, had been produced and that groups would attend both starts and finishes of the four-day race that kicks off in Doncaster next Thursday.
"To be honest, our plans are to use the race as a vehicle to raise awareness, particularly about Team Ineos," Mason told Cyclingnews.
"We have groups across Yorkshire ready to distribute leaflets and materials, and we want to raise awareness of what Ineos are and what impact they're going to have in Yorkshire if they're allowed to start fracking across the land."
Ineos was announced as the new owner of the British WorldTour team in March, after Sky confirmed its own exit from the sport in December of last year.
Although the announcement of Ineos' takeover secured the future of Dave Brailsford and his team, the news was criticised by several parties. Environmental advocacy group Oil Change International decried Ineos' sponsorship of a cycling team as "greenwashing at its best”. Brailsford and the team were also criticised for jumping into bed with one of Europe's biggest producers of plastic materials less than a year after promoting the Ocean Rescue campaign, which called for an end to single-use plastics.
"We want to let people know just who Ineos are," Mason continued. "It's not about cycling. They've also bought the America's Cup and The Daily Mile in schools in which kids run or walk a mile a day. It's supposed to get kids fit in urban areas but then they have air pollution from fossil fuels. The irony is staggering.
"Ineos are almost rubbing our noses in it. We love the Tour de Yorkshire. It has really highlighted what a fantastic and rural area it is. We're trying to protect it from fracking companies. The race is not the target. The target is to raise awareness of what Ineos are. We don't condone any action against the race itself. We want to protect the race. Ineos are not welcome in Yorkshire. It's that simple."
Exact numbers on expected protestors are hard to predict but Mason is confident that all 15,000 masks will be distributed after the initial order of 10,000 was bumped up due to public demand.
"It's little old ladies, it's lawyers, it's people who are seriously concerned about fossil fuel companies coming to the area and exploiting and ruining the places where they live," Mason said.
"This is no better than what the tobacco companies were doing in the 1980s. Is Jim Ratcliffe just making himself feel better for the damage that he's causing? Using sport to greenwash the image of fossil fuels, I think it's disgraceful."
Team Sky would not comment in relation to the protests and the backlash they might face once they become Team Ineos next week. However, a Team Sky spokesperson did say: "The Team remains committed to reducing its use of single-use plastics and is proud of the awareness we have helped raise so far. We know this will continue to be a priority for INEOS given their own commitment to new technological solutions on plastics recycling and reuse. INEOS is committed to moving towards a circular economy where waste plastic is used as a raw material back into its process, not ending up in the sea."
Cyclingnews has reached out to Ineos for comment and is awaiting a response.
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