Triathletes injured after tacks placed on roads during Central Florida race

Clermont police search for culprit

CLERMONT, Fla. – At least one bicyclist was injured and airlifted to the hospital last month during a triathlon in Lake County after someone placed tacks on a road, causing the rider to crash, police said.


The injuries happened Oct. 22 during the Great Floridian Triathlon in the areas of Fosgate Road and near County Road 561A and Sugarloaf Mountain Road in Clermont.


"This is something that was more of an intentional act," Captain Michael McMaster of the Clermont Police Department said.


Police said someone put tacks on the roads a few miles from where the race started in Waterfront Park.


Robb Beams with Sommer Sports, the promoter of the triathlon, tells News 6 the tacks caused about a dozen flat tires. He said more than a dozen athletes were treated for road abrasions and impact injuries and two athletes were airlifted to the hospital. However, only one case of an athlete who was seriously injured is connected to a tack puncturing a tire.


"We don't know who is directly behind it. We just know that they're aggravated with the cyclists being on the road," Beams said.


Clermont police and race organizers do not know the extent of the bicyclists' injuries. 


Beams tells News 6 they found more than a dozen tacks "strategically" placed in a line with the sharp ends pointing up on the far right side of the roads, where bicyclists ride. 


Race promoters said riders looped around the course three times but didn't have any issues until the last lap, implying that the culprit timed their efforts.


Beams said tacks don't typically pop bike tires but cause slow leaks.


"You don't even realize that you got a slow flat until it's almost too late and unfortunately we tend to see it around a corner where a tire will start to roll off the rim," Beams said.


"We don't see intentional acts like this. This is the first time that we've had an intentional act during a competition of this nature," McMaster said. 


Beams said they have had reports in the past of drivers harassing cyclists, saying they don't want them on the roads, but he thinks whoever is behind this took their frustrations too far.


"You should be ashamed of yourselves...there's other ways to show your discontent and it isn't by causing physical harm to others," Beams said. 


Sommer Sports told News 6 that it has three layers of safety and operational procedures, ranging from checking the track a week before the race to having several vehicles that are constantly roaming the course looking for mechanical breakdowns. Clermont police also has officers stationed at intersections to keep an eye on the athletes. 


McMaster says Clermont is designated as a safe cycling city and police want to stress athletes' safety is their top priority.


"We want to make sure that everything we do, we want to promote as safe of an event as possible for the competitors," McMaster said. 


Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS or the Clermont Police Department.


No other details have been released.