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Athletes pose danger on roads

Tue, Aug  7, 2007 - By Tanya McLaren - ForresGazette

[This articel originally appeared on the Forres Gazette web site.]

Residents living near Kinloss claim an accident is waiting to happen with vehicles being confronted by members of a team of British biathlon athletes who use local roads for training on roller-skis.

The residents living around the back roads between Kinloss and Alves claim that drivers are being forced into near-miss situations with the athletes, who have been accused of behaving in an "aggressive manner" in the face of oncoming traffic.

At last week's meeting of the Findhorn and Kinloss Community Council, member Gerald Verner said he had been approached by local people who asked him to raise the issue because they were so frustrated by the actions of the individuals.

He claimed cars are faced with roller-skiers, going more than three abreast on the small, narrow country roads, neither slowing down nor giving way to traffic, which local people claim poses a real safety risk with the possibility of a head-on crash.

"There is a major issue with these roller-skiers, who go around in batches of five or 10," he said.

"There is a serious accident waiting to happen. I have nearly run into them myself. If you meet them on a corner they can't get off the road."

The individuals train from a base at the East Grange Loft, where they have a proper biathlon shooting range, and to simulate winter conditions have special skis which are fixed with roller skate-type wheels which allow them to simulate the speeds of proper conditions, using local roads to practice for competitions, including the Winter Olympic games.

Roller skiing, which was previously offered as a substitute for skiing on snow, is becoming a sport in its own right. A purpose-built Olympic Biathlon Training Centre at Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore, offers roller skiing on smooth, tarred custom-built surfaces, as well as biathlon target shooting and other outdoor activities.

The centre was recently awarded £8,150 from the Lottery Awards for All fund to purchase equipment and organise a number of events, including a Scottish Roller Ski Championship.

Meantime, residents living in the Newton of Struthers area told the "Forres Gazette" several months ago that there were safety issues resulting from the "aggressive and competitive" manner of the individuals who did not give way when challenged. These views were aired again by other residents living nearby last week.

"If you challenge them they put up their fists and use foul language," said Mr Verner.

"I would like to know about the legality of them being on the road in the first place in such numbers."

He added: "It is a shame there wasn't a policeman at the meeting. Maybe the police could give us an answer as to this."

Community council chairman Rick Walker said that he had been previously asked to facilitate a meeting following complaints from residents living at Newton of Struthers, where the issue was discussed and some compromise was believed to have been reached.

"This came up about two years ago," he said.

"The team wanted to use the Newton of Struthers road because of the long, straight surface.

"It is interesting to hear they are using the other road, because they told me it wasn't suitable then."

Kinloss member Ian Brodie said he supported everything that Mr Verner had said, and had witnessed the roller skiers going past his house.

"They are in groups from two or three to 15 and more," he said.

"They are not in control like a bike or even roller blades because of the speeds. There is an expectation that cars should be able to slow down first for them. But my concern is that someone is going to get killed."

He said the team left from their base at the East Grange Loft then travelled down the road, towards the Coltfield area.

"Several people have told me they have nearly run over them," said Mr Verner.

"If you stop and challenge them they get aggressive."

Mr Brodie called the team a "safety hazard" and said one of the roads they used was on a blind bend which gave motorists about 15 yards to stop. He said if there was a large group, they couldn't all get off the road in time.

He added the team was aware there was an issue and had put up an unofficial sign – which said "beware roller skiers" – to try and warn motorists.

Meantime, local landowner Grigor Butler, who runs the East Grange Loft, from where the athletes set out on their training runs, called on the roller-skiers to show a little more road sense and be aware of other road users to prevent an accident.

"I have spoken to them in the past about it," he said.

"They should show some road sense. They need to sort out their approach."

He added that the legalities of the situation were probably similar to that of bikes, and said if they were training as a group then it was hard for oncoming traffic.

He said the roller-skiers could even consider training about 30 yards apart in a staggered way behind each other, so they were not in a pack, which would make the situation easier for drivers.

"They are individual and responsible for their own behaviour," he said, adding that he had some sympathy with other local road users.

He added that although there was purpose-built track at Glenmore, it was very steep and presented its own dangers. He said the group preferred the roads around Kinloss because they were flat, and sometimes did their hill training near Clunyhill.

Meantime, Findhorn and Kinloss Community Council secretary Tim Negus said he intended to contact Grampian Police to get advice to deal with the issue.