South African fires disrupt world's largest cycle race

Wed Mar 4, 2015 12:51pm EST
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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's Cycle Tour, the largest bicycle race in the world, will be shortened this year by road closures after fires swept across Cape Town's Table Mountain, race officials said on Wednesday.

A number of roads associated with the scenic but tough 109- kilometer route remain closed to traffic since the fires started on Sunday and will be out of bounds for cyclists. The route usually traverses Cape Town’s south peninsula, including Chapman’s Peak Drive.

The cycle route will now be shorted to 47 kilometers, David Bellairs, marketing director for the Cape Town Cycle Tour said.

"It has become clear that the safety of cyclists cannot be guaranteed on Chapman's Peak," Bellairs told reporters.

The race is the largest cycling race in the world, measured by the number of riders individually time. An estimated 35,000 cyclists, many of whom are foreigners, are expected to start the race on Sunday morning.

The fires, fanned by strong winds, have scorched swathes of mountain vegetation, gutting three homes and damaging several others since starting in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Firefighters battling the winds and sweltering temperatures have managed to push back the fire with the help of helicopters water-bombing inaccessible hot spots.

More than 500 residents were initially evacuated, but most have returned home, disaster management officials said. No fatalities were reported, although one firefighter was hospitalized for burns.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Larry King)