Sunday’s Etape Caledonia could see a repeat of the sabotage that marred last year’s event, protesters have warned.
Last May, riders in Scotland were lucky to avoid serious injury when carpet tacks were scattered on two stretches of the 130km Highland course.
Local man Alexander Grosset, 63, was charged with “culpably and recklessly” depositing tacks on the road but was subsequently cleared.
Protest group Anti Closed Road Events (ACRE) has always denounced the use of illegal activity to obstruct the closed road event, now in its fourth year. But in a letter to Tayside Police Chief Constable Justine Curran, ACRE spokesman Peter Hounam has raised the spectre of a repeat of last year’s sabotage.
In the letter, Hounam, director of the Legends of Grandtully tourist attraction, advises the police chief that “in the interests of maintaining public order and perhaps avoiding an outrage like the attack on the event last year” complaints about litter, public disorder and cyclists urinating by the roadside should be taken seriously.
ACRE claims to have 500 members who are angry at being inconvenienced by the six-hour annual road closure caused by the Etape. However, both Perth & Kinross Council and event organisers IMG insist the protest group is far smaller and is not representative of the majority of residents and businesses, who benefit from the event, which brings an estimated £1 million into the local economy.
Earlier this week ACRE announced they would not protest at this or next year’s Etape. A press release, provocatively titled ‘ACRE changes tack’, outlined how the group “believes that the animosity and anger generated by the attack must be given a chance to fade” and “has always argued that its battle is not with the cycling community but with P&K Council and other authorities, including the police”.
This year’s Etape Caledonia sold out, in record time, in early February. Now 4,500 riders are set to ride the scenic course, tackling a total ascent of 1,950m, while raising £430,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Former solicitor Grosset was arrested and imprisoned for two days following last year’s race after it came to light that he had suggested someone should throw tacks on the road. He admitted making comments about tacks at a Rotary Club lunch, but said: “You say something ridiculous and people take it seriously.” In January, the Crown Office announced it would be taking no action against him.
Last month he had his gun licence revoked after Chief Constable Curran said she believed he was “no longer a suitable person to hold a firearms certificate”. The newspaper Scotland on Sunday reported that Curran justified the action by outlining the circumstances leading to Grosset’s arrest last May.
Speaking from his laundrette business in Pitlochry’s West Moulin Road this week, Grosset wouldn’t confirm or deny that he was involved with ACRE. “I don’t think I’ve got anything to say about it,” he said. “A year ago this time I said something and I ended up … you know the history. I’m not saying anything.”