Spanish police say they have foiled a plot to flood the route of stage 3 of the Vuelta a España with hundreds of litres of engine oil.
Four pro-Catalan independence activists were arrested on Saturday and their homes were searched over the alleged sabotage attempt. The activists allegedly planned to pour the oil via tubes protruding from makeshift barrels, hidden in bushes on a bridge that overlooked the Vuelta route.
After two nights in jail, the four activists were released on bail on Monday, with hardline separatist movements organising solidarity protests to greet them as they left the police station where they had been held.
One of the bail conditions was that the four could not come any closer than 500 metres to the Vuelta. The four face possible charges of public disorder, committing road safety and environmental crime, and belonging to a criminal organisation.
Last week grassroots Catalan separatist groups had called for protests against the Vuelta a España. The race has spent four days in Catalonia. A poll in January indicated around 40% of the Catalan population support independence from Spain.
Some groups, like the pro-independence movement Omnium, had appealed for straightforward demonstrations against the Vuelta “to make the Catalan political conflict visible in the world.”
The pro-independence movement is strongest in small towns and rural areas in Catalonia, and in Barcelona on Saturday, there was little sign of any protests.
Demonstrations were equally lowkey on Sunday, with a handful of separatists braving heavy rain at the start of stage 2 in Mataró to wave a ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ sign. When both stages 3 and stage 4 headed across some major separatist areas in inland Catalonia, many villages had – perhaps intentionally – bedecked the streets through which the route passed with Catalan flags, but there were no attempts to block the race or any sign of major demonstrations.
Tacks were strewn across part of stage 2 with around 100 kilometres to go, causing numerous riders to puncture, but it is not clear who was responsible.
In previous visits to Catalonia by the Vuelta, pro-independence activists blocked the race on at least one occasion. The Vuelta last visited the Catalan capital, Barcelona, in 2012 and last had a stage in Catalonia in 2019, without significant incidents.