THE safety of hundreds of cyclists was threatened during a major sports event when drawing pins were thrown on to the road and more than 1,000 route signs vandalised.
Organisers of UK Cycling’s New Forest Spring Sportive were forced to take drastic action at the start of the two-day event when the participants were put in jeopardy by the reckless actions of the vandals.
Marshals had to sweep up the tacks off the road in Boldre – but some tyres were still punctured.
Riders have also spoken of one group of people in the road, shouting at the passing cyclists and deliberately obstructing them as they passed.
And event organisers also found that more than 1,000 direction and safety signs had been removed or defaced, forcing safety teams to replace them before the 1,850 cyclists set off.
Heavy rain added to the organisers’ problems, forcing them to cancel the second day as the hosting field in Brockenhurst became waterlogged.
Martin Barden, director of UK Cycling, said there were no injuries but he was “appalled” at the action of the vandals.
He said: “A small minority of people have taken to vigilante lengths to stop the events. Their behaviour is unacceptable.
“[They] have tried to ruin the day for everyone and tried to endanger cyclists.
“Luckily that hasn’t happened, due to sheer luck, but the attempt to injure a cyclist has been there.
“I think it is appalling. It’s all been reported to the police.
“It is a very small-minded type of attitude. If we hadn’t been on top of it, it could have caused serious harm.”
Mr Barden added that some cars were also being driven at slow speeds, causing a slow-moving roadblock.
But he said that most cyclists were unaware of any problems and that many had enjoyed the day, despite the weather.
He also said that the majority of the New Forest residents were welcoming to the cyclists for the fifth annual event.
Nic Stevenson, 29, who took part in the event said despite the best efforts of the organisers, there was still some evidence of signage being tampered with.
If road markings had not been painted on the road surface, he said, there could have been problems as some directions were pointing the opposite way.
Nic, who grew up in Highcliffe and now lives in London, also spoke of a group of 12-15 people between the first and second feed station, who were in the road shouting at cyclists as they went by.
“There were a couple of younger women and what appeared to be families there – they looked to be local people”, Nic said.
“We got the impression someone was trying to pick a fight.
“They were definitely trying to provoke people.
“They were shouting things like “We don’t want you in our forest”.
“There wasn’t any violence but it was definitely intimidating and talking to other people, they had also come across the same group.
“However, there was a marshal in place before you got to them, warning you to slow down, so the organisers had really done their best.
"And I saw a police car heading in that direction as well once we were through, although I don’t know the reason why.”
Nic added: “With something like this people tend to remember the worst bit not the best bit.
“There were a lot of signs out saying “we welcome the sportive riders here” and people cheering riders on.
“I honestly don’t understand why people wouldn’t want lots of people visiting the area.
“Many will never have been to the New Forest before and could have been return visitors.”
The event had attracted criticism in the week leading up to it, with some residents of the New Forest claiming that cyclists were an increasing nuisance as they flocked to the park to enjoy its breathtaking views.
Mr Barden said that the number of participants had been kept low out of respect to those living there.
“We could have had 10,000 people here but we reduced the figures. We did it consciously to be considerate to the local residents. The same courtesy has not been extended the other way, in some parts,” he added.
Ian Wild, chairman of Boldre Parish Council, said he thought that the vandals’ actions were “reprehensible”.
“It could have caused accidents and could have potentially been very serious.
Anyone who cycled over the tacks could have been injured. If someone had done that, that’s reprehensible,” he said.
Earlier this week Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, wrote to transport minister Norman Baker calling for a formal licensing system for cycle events to be introduced.
He was unavailable for further comment yesterday.
Before the weekend’s event, a spokesman for the New Forest Equestrian Association said that there was a big risk to horses and riders from such events, especially when cyclists came up quickly and silently from behind.
Mr Barden said that the Forest ride event would now be rescheduled for later in the year.