The broader picture: The ice cycles

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The Independent Culture
ANYONE for extreme sports? In July of this year, the French-based photographer Klaus Todt-Rubel took these pictures from a helicopter over the Pic Blanc, above Alpe d'Huez. For the last five years there has been a summer race down this mountain: the race covers 27km of treacherously steep terrain, starting at 3,300m above sea-level. This year, more than 700 riders took part. The winner, Francois Dola, took 59 minutes to complete the course; the slower riders often take as long as three hours. "That's because they're falling over all the time," observes Todt-Rubel. When asked whether he would consider competing in the race himself, he answers: "No, I don't think so."

The race begins at 9am, before the surface of the snow has been melted by the sun. The cyclists at the lead can thus make headway, leaving the rest wallowing in the slush like flies in jam. The first 1,000m are so steep that most of the riders - good or bad - will fall over at least a few times. The stretch of snow lasts for 3km; then the cyclists must tackle the rock surface, following narrow gravel paths, after 20km of which the competitors reach the grassy foothills and safety. "Most of the riders crash between 10 and 20 times," says Todt-Rubel. "Lots of people are bleeding when they reach the finish, although there are few serious injuries. Mostly they break their bikes - the saddles or the chains. It's a race full of surprise for everyone."

For those who haven't experienced enough "surprise", there is another extreme downhill race, held every November on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The cyclists set off from the rim of the island's volcano; the finish-line is at the beach. It may be dangerous, but at least you can't try it at home.