Highly charged athletes prepare for Gigathlon
More than 3,000 people are set to take part in what is arguably Switzerland's most gruelling endurance test on Saturday. The EWZ Gigathlon 2000 comprises five different sports and passes through the same number of cantons in the east of the country.
It's being held following the success of the first Gigathlon back in 1998. It will begin at six o'clock on Saturday morning at Bergell in canton Graubünden.
After a 48-kilometre mountain bike ride through some of the country's most breathtaking scenery it will be time for the racing bike stage. That lasts 122 kilometres from Savognin in canton Graubünden to Niederurnen in canton Glarus.
Saddles will then be swapped for inline skates for a 28-kilometre stretch from Niederurnen to Lachen. Then there's a three and a half kilometre swim from Lachen to Rapperswil before the final, killer blow - a marathon race that takes the runners to the Hallenstadion in Zurich.
The whole event is being sponsored by the Elektrizitätswerk der Stadt Zurich (EWZ). "The basic idea of the race is that it roughly follows EWZ's transmission lines from Bergell in Graubünden to the city of Zurich," explained EWZ spokesman Bruno Hürlimann.
Hürlimann said one of the most daunting sections will come during the mountain bike stage.
"The highest part of the race is on the Septimer Pass which was used by the Romans to cross the Alps. "It's 2,300 metres high. You can only cross it by walking so your bike has to be carried across on your shoulders."
More than 200 people have entered the race as single competitors and will attempt to complete all five stages.
But for many others, the Gigathlon is being confronted as a team-event. Fifty-five teams of one man and one woman will share the five disciplines between them. And there are hundreds of five member teams, which must include two women.
One of the teams includes three of Switzerland's top triathlon stars - Christophe Mauch, Urs Dellsberger and Brigitte Macmahon. It will give Macmahon a serious work-out before she takes part in the Olympic Games in Sydney later this year.
The EWZ is offering prizes for the winners of the race. For most, of course, the real prize will be an enormous sense of achievement that will come through having completed the event.
They'll be met by an enormous crowd of supporters in the Hallenstadion and by a concert given by some of Switzerland's best known pop and rock stars.
by Michael Hollingdale
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