Cyclists go from zoom to burst after tack attack

HUNDREDS of cyclists competing in a major bike race suffered punctured tyres yesterday after saboteurs scattered carpet tacks over the course in an apparent dispute over road closures.

The Macmillan Cancer Support Etape Caledonia in Perthshire was halted for more than an hour while roads were swept and participants given a police escort.

The incident near Aberfeldy marked a dramatic escalation of opposition to the 81-mile event.

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It has met with protests over the previous two years it has been staged, over the enforced closures of local roads for up to four hours.

The event, which attracted more than 3,500 riders, is the only one of its kind in the UK to involve closing roads, which has angered some local businesses.

Police, who said they were following a "positive line of inquiry", condemned the "reckless and irresponsible actions" of the saboteurs.

There were fears last night the route would have to be moved elsewhere, or participants would be deterred from entering next year.

Organisers said the event was halted in mid-course because of the risk of cyclists falling off at high speed after hitting tacks.

There were no reports of injuries, but many cyclists received multiple punctures, including eventual winner, Veli-Matti Raikkonen, from Aberdeen.

The sabotage, reminiscent of one of Dick Dastardly's tricks in the TV cartoon Wacky Races, involved tacks only millimetres long, which were spread over some ten miles of the route, south east of Loch Rannoch.

Louise Smith, from Edinburgh, who had to mend three punctures caused by the tacks, said: "It's just appalling and could have been really dangerous."

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Angela Kidd, another Edinburgh participant, said: "It was a nightmare. People may now be reluctant to come back."

Gordon Mackay, a sports surgeon from Dunblane who also suffered a blown tyre, was surprised at the lack of injuries.

He said: "It might have been spiteful sabotage but could have been very serious. Competitors would have been going at more than 30mph and it would not have taken much for a pile-up, causing fractured collarbones and dislocated shoulders."

Kathy James, who runs a B&B at Coshieville, on the affected stretch, said: "The race is such a good thing for the area, but I do not think it can continue, as there have been protests since it started three years ago."

A Perth and Kinross Council study showed last year's race was worth 440,000 to the economy. John Swinney, the finance secretary and local MSP, said he was "absolutely disgusted" by the sabotage.

Peter Hounam, a member of the Anti Closed Road Event group and local businessman distanced himself from the sabotage but called for the race to be held on open roads because it impeded churchgoers and farmers. He said: "Some people have brought up the idea of direct action but we have always been against it. We very much regret what has happened, but it is an example of the frustration felt when the local council does not understand the needs of local people."