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Wed, 22 Jan 2020 13:17 GMT

Short of Ice, Dutch Canal-Skating Marathon Finds Second Home in Austria


7Dnews London - AFP

Fri, 01 Feb 2019 23:13 GMT

It is 22 years since Dutch canals froze enough to hold the country's most famous speed skating event, an epic race snaking through towns near the northern coast. But enterprising skaters have created a reliable backup, on a lake in the Austrian Alps.

The 11 Cities Tour, or Elfstedentocht, a roughly 200 km (124 mile) marathon in the northern province of Friesland, was first held in 1909. The last race in 1997 attracted more than 16,000 skaters, the fastest finishing in just under seven hours. 

Milder winters have meant it is now rare for there to be a sheet of ice 15 cm (6 inches) thick on the canals, the requirement for the race to take place. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), predicted in 2007 that there would only be four races this century, compared with 15 in the previous one. 

That is not yet a problem at the Weissensee, a picturesque lake in southern Austria that still freezes over every winter. An alternative Elfstedentocht has been held there annually since 1989, drawing thousands to several races spread over two weeks. 

Instead of one big loop through the northern Netherlands, skaters do 16 laps of a 12.5 km circuit winding across the lake, albeit in a more dramatic landscape.