Eleven cities, the tour of tours


Author Ron Couwenhoven
Translation Cheryl Richardson, 2019

Participants before the start at the Hotel Amicitia in Leeuwarden. Far left, Lieutenant N.J. Waringa, who competed outside the competition, because he didn't want to race. He was actually the first non contestant skater in the tour, but he did not reach the finish.

The Elfstedentocht (Eleven City Tour, in Frisian: Alvestêdetocht) is an almost 200 kilometer long ice skating tour organized by the Royal Association of the Frisian Eleven Cities. Because of its great distance and difficulty, the Elfstedentocht is also called "De Tocht der Tochten" (The Tour of Tours). The first was held in 1909.

On Saturday, January 2,1909, Simon Hijlkema, the president of the Frisian Ice Federation, stood on the ice in front of the Amicitia Hotel in Leeuwarden at five o'clock in the morning and shouted: "Have a good trip, gentlemen!" Twenty-three speed skaters skated away towards Dokkum cheering into the dark night. The first Elfstedentocht had begun! Only nine skaters would complete the 200-kilometer ice marathon through the towns of Friesland. Minne Hoekstra, student of theology and son of skating manufacturer Abraham Keimpes Hoekstra from Warga, was the winner.

It was the start of a classic, one of only fifteen that could be organized in more than a hundred years. Hard winters are needed, but it must not be too windy during the frost periods, because the wind creates wakes in the ice that prevent the 15,000 or more skaters from completing the longest and toughest skating marathon in the world.

During the first trip, the ice was poor due to a thaw that made it impossible to skate at Harlingen and Bolsward around noon. In almost all later Elfstedentochts the participants had to deal with bad ice, bumpy ice (ruts/cracks), snow and all kinds of other misery. In addition, skaters regularly had to cope with strong winds, snowstorms and densely packed, snowy tracks, not to mention fierce frost.

Minne Hoekstra (right) won the first Elfstedentocht in 1909. Left, Gerlof van der Leij who arrived second

All those ingredients made the Elfstedentocht a phenomenon. Those who conquered, became heroes and received the coveted memorial cross made available in 1909 by sports pioneer, Pim Mulier on behalf of his Physical Education Association.

The tour, which initially took the northern route - Leeuwarden - Dokkum - Leeuwarden - Franeker - Harlingen, moved 'round the south' in 1941. This means that from Leeuwarden via Sneek, IJlst and Sloten Stavoren are reached, after which, Bolsward via Hindeloopen and Workum and then one continues via Harlingen, Franeker, the famous Bartlehiem junction, to Dokkum and back to Leeuwarden.

From Harlingen one often has to deal with fierce headwinds from the east.

The winnars

Queen Wilhelmina donated a gold medal to the winner of the first trip, who also received a gold cross.

The fifteen Eleven Cities Tours had twenty four winners, of which Coen de Koning, Auke Adema and Evert van Benthem appear twice on the honors list. In 1947, the winner Jo Bosman from Breukelen was disqualified, because he had allegedly 'imposed' on number two, Klaas Schipper, who was also removed from the result. Jan W. van der Hoorn from Ter Aar, who arrived fifth, was declared the winner.

The five winners of 1956 did not receive a gold medal because they had crossed the finish line together, but were not disqualified by the Eleven Cities Board. They were therefore the first to remain in the results. They did receive an Elfsteden cross as finishers, but they are still boycotted by the Elfsteden board on official occasions to this day.

Until 1985 there was no competition for women. The first women to participate in the tours appear in the chart below. Jikke Gaastra came to Sneek as the only female participant in 1912, when the trip was aborted due to unreliable ice on the Zwette. All skaters who reached this city were awarded the Eleven Cities Cross. In 1929 and 1963, not a single woman managed to reach the finish. In 1947, Wobkje Kooistra and Sjoerdsje Faber were the first women to cross the finish line.




  2 januari 1909

Minne. Hoekstra – Warga

No women participated

  7 februari 1912

Coen de Koning – Arnhem

Jikke Gaastra - Leeuwarden

27 januari 1917

Coen de Koning – Leur

Janna van der Weg - Leeuwarden

12 februari 1929

Karst Leemburg – Leeuwarden

No women arrived

16 december 1933

Abe de Vries – Dronrijp

E.C. de Nekker - Willemsoord


Sipke Castelein – Wartena


30 januari 1940

Piet Keyzer – De Lier

Sjoerdsje Faber - Warga


Auke Adema – Franeker



Cor Jongert –  Alkmaar



Dirk van der Duim – Warga



Sjouke Westra – Warmenhuizen


  6 februari 1941

Auke Adema – Franeker

Wobkje Kooistra - Warga

22 januari 1942

Siteze de Groot – Weidum

Antje Schaap - Wirdum

  8 februari 1947

Jan van der Hoorn – Ter Aar

Sjoerdsje Faber - Warga



Wobkje Kooistra - Warga

3 februari 1954

Jeen van den Berg – Nij Beets

Aaltje van Dellen - Friens

14 februari 1956

Aad de Koning – Purmerend

Annie van Dijk - Hartwerd


Jan van der Hoorn – Ter Aar



Maus Weijnhout – Lisserbroek



Anton Verhoeven – Dussen



Jeen Nauta - Grouw


18 januari 1963

Reinier Paping – Ommen

No women arrived

21 februari 1985

Evert van Benthem – Sint Jansklooster

Lenie van der Hoorn – Ter Aar

26 februari 1986

Evert van Benthem – Sint Jansklooster

Tineke Dijkshoorn - Schipluiden

  4 januari 1997

Henk Angenent – Alphen aan de Rijn

Klasina Seinstra – St. Johannesga





"Elfstedentocht: A Murderous Marathon", author R. Couwenhoven, sponsor and member of De Poolster.

Route and film footage

The Elfstedentocht (Frisian: Alvestêdetocht) is organized by the Royal Association of the Frisian Eleven Cities. Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland and has traditionally been the starting and arrival place. The cities that are visited are Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum and finally Leeuwarden.

For the website of the Royal Association De Friesche Elf Cities see also the website of the Koninklijke Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden

The Eleven Cities Tour of 1929

The Eleven Cities Tour of 1963

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