This Sunday, August 21, the Deer Creek Challenge will take place in Jefferson County's Deer Creek Canyon -- and in advance of the event, even more bicyclists than usually pedal in the area are training there. But not everyone appears to be welcoming. The Jeffco sheriff's office is investigating several incidents of tacks left where bicyclists typically ride and trying to determine if other favorite biking spots have been targeted.
According to Jeffco sheriff's office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley, tacks were first found along the road edges last year, "near the time we were approaching the first Deer Creek Challenge. And there was definitely some conflict last season. We had lots of increased bike traffic up in the canyon because it's become a well-known, great place to train and ride. The word has gotten out, and there's been an impact to our community. And if you know that canyon, there's very little shoulder on the road, if at all. So there's a need for our bicyclists and motorists to share the road."
Some haven't been doing so. Kelley notes that a number of drivers have been ticketed for passing bicyclists too closely, in a way that seemed intentional, while a few summonses have been written for bicyclists who've obstructed automobile traffic in the canyon by refusing to move over or riding in tandem.
Given these problems last summer, the sheriff's office brought members of Deer Creek Canyon homeowners' associations together with representatives of various organized bicycling groups that use the area. Kelley saw the meeting that resulted as extremely positive. "They were able to speak freely and share each other's experiences and try to find some understanding and respect," she recalls. "I thought it went really well."
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Nonetheless, tacks have been found in similar Deer Creek Canyon spots on three occasions this summer, and a car got a flat tire after running over a utility blade -- and another blade was found nearby. Investigators don't know if the later incident was related to the first three, but they're looking into the possibility. Likewise, they're investigating two other reports of sharp objects being left along the road's edge in other areas frequented by bicyclists: 32nd Avenue in Golden, near the Coors plant, which many bicyclists use as a route to Lookout Mountain, as well as on Lookout's Lariat Loop.
On August 28, the Loop will be part of the route for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the highest profile bike race to take place around these parts in years. In August 2010, Lance Armstrong joined then-Governor Bill Ritter to announce the event, originally called the Quiznos Pro Challenge.
At this point, Jeffco authorities don't know if the 32nd Avenue and Lariat Loop incidents are the work of bicycle haters. In fact, the Loop hazard was broken glass that could have been left behind by a common litterbug. But given what's going on in Deer Creek Canyon, and the impending debut of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, they're not dismissing the possibility of deliberate sabotage. After all, Kelley says, "there has been some conflict there, with sometimes aggressive motorists not abiding by the rules of the road and not sharing space with bicyclists, and complaints going the other way, too."
Thus far, no one's been injured as a result of the tacks and other bike-path obstacles, but Kelley stresses that if someone is, any person found to be responsible could be charged with assault rather than more minor infractions like criminal mischief. And there's no doubt these kinds of situations can escalate. Take the case of Christopher Loven, a truck driver involved in a crash that killed 73-year-old bicyclist Eugene Howrey. Loven doesn't yet face criminal counts in Howrey's death, but he was convicted of a 2009 bike rage incident and got into a brawl with another bike rider a few years earlier.
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In the meantime, Jeffco is stepping up patrols in advance of the two upcoming events and has asked residents of the areas to report anything suspicious. "We're doing everything we can to stop this activity coming up to race time," Kelley says.
Here's a commercial for the inaugural Deer Creek Challenge, in 2010:
More from our Sports archive: "Lance Armstrong doped in opinion of Bicycling editor and Tour De Lance author Bill Strickland."