Steamboat Springs Triathletes and cyclists who frequent popular Yampa Valley road routes are angry, and they want answers to their flattened tires.
Before 9 a.m. Sunday, four separate reports were filed with the Routt County Sheriff's Office by athletes competing in the Steamboat Triathlon regarding hundreds of metal thumbtacks strewn across a stretch of Colorado Highway 131. The tacks became embedded in tires and caused numerous blowouts and plenty of frustration among competitors.
Race officials and athletes are calling the incident a malicious act and a planned sabotage against the annual triathlon and recreational cyclists.
The four official reports represented just a fraction of those affected Sunday in the 10th annual race at and around Lake Catamount.
Of the 30 flats incurred during the race, 28 were caused by the thumbtacks, competitor and event sponsor Jim McCreight said.
Sheriff’s Office deputies are collecting the tacks, which apparently were spray-painted a flat gray to mask the shine from their original metallic finish. Undersheriff Ray Birch said Monday morning that the tacks are being gathered as evidence, and any party responsible for the incident could be charged with criminal mischief, a punishable crime.
No injuries were reported because of the tacks from Sunday’s triathlon, but in the case of a future injury, Birch said, criminal charges could be raised.
Birch said the Sheriff’s Office is asking for anonymous tips about who may be responsible for placing the tacks along the race route.
“We have a lot of our own residents who are active in riding bikes, and we sponsor a lot of events here,” Birch said. “Anyone with any information should contact our office.”
McCreight said he had a patient Monday morning at his dentist's office who was looking to raise funds with a pool of friends as a cash reward in exchange for information leading to the identification of the party responsible for the tacks.
Without Limits — the Boulder-based event production company that puts on the Steamboat Triathlon — had workers sweep the entire course Saturday night in preparation for the early morning race, according to race director Lance Panigutti.
Triathletes began spilling onto the road course from their 8 a.m. swim portion at about 8:20 a.m., traveling along Routt County Road 18 from Lake Catamount, then heading south along Colo. 131 to connect to C.R. 14.
It was there in that half-mile stretch on Colo. 131 where most of the tires were blown out, Panigutti said, indicating the tacks had to be placed in the middle of the night or very early Sunday morning.
“We’ve hosted triathlons for seven years, over 120 triathlons, and this is the first time we’ve seen this,” Panigutti said Monday.
KompetitiveEdge, a Denver-based triathlon store on hand at Catamount as the event’s bike shop sponsor, scrambled to assist those with popped tires so they could finish the race. The shop’s pit crew used electric tape and patches when it ran out of tubes, helping re-inflate 17 tires.
“They were literally like a Tour de France pit crew out there, getting people back on their feet, up and running,” Panigutti said.
This doesn’t seem to be an incident isolated to Sunday's race. Panigutti said Lake Catamount Touring Center owner Dave McAtee mentioned that some of his employees have incurred tack-flattened tires while riding in the area on their way to work.
Orange Peel Bicycle Service owner Brock Webster said tacks have been scattered for a few years along the Colo. 131 stretch near C.R. 14. Webster said his shop’s customers have crashed and popped expensive tires. The bike shop owner even has posted about the incidents on his Twitter account to alert riders where he’s seen tacks on the stretch of highway.
“It’s malicious, for sure,” Webster said. “It’s not the first incident by any means.”
As upset as Panigutti is about the incident, he isn’t worried about it affecting the future of Without Limits running the Steamboat Triathlon, but he does see it as an issue for Steamboat’s cycling reputation.
“How does Steamboat — which claims to be Bike Town USA — get rid of this?” Panigutti said. “Very quickly, it will have an image problem for people not wanting to come ride their bikes there.”
Similar attacks against cyclists have been reported across the region.
In August 2011, the Boulder Daily Camera reported that tacks, box cutters and broken glass were found along a stretch of popular bike routes in the days leading up to the inaugural USA Pro Challenge, causing several flat tires for recreational riders.
Two months ago, the Aspen Times reported that two nail-spiked boards were found embedded on a popular mountain bike trail near Carbondale.
“It’s unfortunate,” Panigutti said. “I’m pissed because it takes away from the racer experience. That’s not fair to them.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll