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Race to the South Pole

Maria on the White ICE Trike

British adventurer Maria Leijerstam is well ahead of her two male rivals in a race to be the first to cycle to the South Pole. Earlier today Maria crossed the halfway point, extending the gap between her and her closest rival to a massive 250 miles (400km).

Despite starting days later than her competitors Maria is significantly closer to the finish than American, Daniel Burton, and Spaniard, Juan Menendez Granados.  The two men are cycling the most common route from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole on Fat Bikes – an approach that has been taken before but without success.

Maria has taken a different strategy: she’s riding a recumbent trike, specially designed for the challenge by Inspired Cycle Engineering.

“Fat bikes fail because they get blown over in the high winds, or can’t ride fast enough through the snow to stay upright” said Maria.

The custom-made trike is stable and aerodynamic, which enables Maria to focus her energy on progressing through the gale-force winds and hazardous terrain.

The ability to climb hills with relative ease is a huge advantage for Maria. It has enabled her to take a different, shorter, route which requires climbing the formidable Transantarctic Mountains; a similar route to that of Scott and Amundsen in their legendary South Pole expeditions. Maria identified the Leverett Glacier as a cyclable route through the mountains to the polar plateau. In the first three days Maria climbed from sea level to nearly 8700 feet (2650m) on the recumbent trike against very strong head winds and deep snow.

“The trike is amazing. It’s completely stable , even in extreme winds and I can take on long steep hills that I’d never be able to climb on a bike” said Maria.

With the glacier behind her Maria faced over 300 miles of the polar plateaux. The snow, wind and sastrugi made progress slow and arduous, but by cycling in 12 hours stints Maria continued to progress 25-35 miles (40 – 60km) each day. Earlier today Maria crossed the halfway point on her 400 mile (650km) race.

After a hard days’ cycling just getting her tent up in the ferocious winds is a challenge. From the relative comfort of her tent Maria updates her @whiteicecycle Twitter feed, and a tracker records her progress on her website

Maintaining her current pace Maria should reach the South Pole well ahead of schedule, but will still have to forego Christmas celebrations for a hard days’ cycling.