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Dutch gripped by ice fever as military helps prepare route for historic skating race

Michael Kooren / Reuters

A mosaic made up of thousands of portraits of people who completed the Elfstedentocht eleven cities tour is seen on the Elfstedenbrug (Eleven City Bridge), in Lekkum on Wednesday.

Catrinus Van Der Veen / EPA

Dutch army is deployed on the alternative route of the Eleven Cities Tour (Elfstedentocht) to prepare the alternative route over the Hegemer lake in Woudsend on Wednesday. The Eleven Cities Tour, at almost 200 km, is the world's largest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour, and is held in the province of Friesland, Netherlands only when the ice along the entire course is 15 cm thick.

Peter Dejong / AP

Skaters ride a stretch of the 11 Cities Tour itinerary as they pass through the village of Hindeloopen, northern Netherlands, on Wednesday.

Paul Raats / AFP - Getty Images

The Dutch army is deployed on the alternative route of the Eleven Cities Tour (Elfstedentocht) to make the alternative route over the Hegemer lake in Woudsend, Netherlands, free from snow.

Catrinus Van Der Veen / EPA

A worker wearing skates measures, by means of radar beam, the thickness of the ice at a canal in Balk, a village in the route of the Eleven Cities Tour.

Thousands of men and women have been preparing feverishly for the race: to participate, one must be a member of the Elfstedentocht association, and out of more than 30,000 members, only about 16,000 skaters are allowed to compete.

They set off from Leeuwarden in staggered batches of several hundred skaters, the first ones at 5.00 a.m. in the winter dark, while the last lot bring up the rear at about 10 a.m.

Read more in the full story from Reuters.