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The Elfstedentocht (or, in West Frisian, Alvestêdetocht, English translation: "Eleven Cities Tour"), the world's largest and longest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour, is held irregularly in the province of Friesland, Netherlands.[1]

The tour, almost 200 km in length, is conducted on frozen canals, rivers and lakes between the eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum then returning to Leeuwarden. The tour is not held every year, mostly because not every Dutch winter permits skating on natural ice. The last editions were in 1985, 1986 and 1997. Adding to that, the tour currently features about 15,000 amateur skaters taking part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice. There is a stated regulatory requirement for the race to take place that the ice must be (and remain at) a minimum thickness of 15 centimetres along the entirety of the course. All skaters must be a member of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. A starting permit is required. Further more, in each city the skater must collect a stamp, as well as a stamp from the three secret check points. The skater must finish before midnight.

Since the Elfstedentocht is such a rare event, its declaration creates excitement all over the country. As soon as a few days pass with sub-zero temperatures, the media start speculating about the chances for an Elfstedentocht. The longer the freezing temperatures stay, the more intense this "Elfstedenkoorts" (eleven-city tour fever) gets - culminating in a national near-frenzy when the magic words "It giet oan" ("it is on!" in Frisian) are spoken to announce that the tour is actually taking place. The day before the race many Dutch flock to Leeuwarden to enjoy the party atmosphere that surrounds the event. The evening before the race called the "Nacht van Leeuwarden" (Night of Leeuwarden) becomes a giant city-wide street party (Frisians, who have a reputation of surliness, are said to thaw when it freezes). At the day of the race most Frisians and Dutchmen either stay home to watch the race on television or find a place along the route to cheer on the skaters.

There are likely to be points along the route where the ice is too thin to allow mass skating, or where there is some other problem (e.g., there is actually an organisation "Committee Elfsteden Nee" that is opposed to the race and sabotaged the route in 1997 by laying salt on the ice at one place). These are called "kluning points" (from West Frisian klúnje) and the skaters walk on their skates to the next stretch of good ice. In 1997 ice-transplantation was introduced to strengthen weak places in the ice, for instance under bridges.

The finishing point of the Elfstedentocht is a canal near Leeuwarden, called the "Bonkevaart". Close to the "Bonkevaart" is the famous landmark windmill, De Bullemolen, Lekkum.[2]


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