Soldiers sweep ice on 11 cities tour route

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Dutch troops are joining a race against time to prepare ice for a legendary 125-mile (200 kilometer) race across frozen waterways in the northern Netherlands that could be staged for the first time in 15 years.

Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Grotens says a group of 50 soldiers is shoveling snow along a possible alternative route in case ice on part of the traditional track of the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Cities Tour, is too weak to support the 16,000 skaters who would take part if organizers stage the race.

Grotens said Wednesday the troops are stationed nearby and volunteered to help.

The Frisian Eleven Cities Association that organizes the event is meeting Wednesday night to discuss whether the ice is strong enough for the race.