The stage two teams for the Mercedes-Benz Paris to Beijing rally have all reach Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The fleet thirty-six E320 diesels has now been on the road for twelve days and covered more than 6,200 km (4,000 miles) and are now out Europe and into Asia. Organizers have made some schedule adjustments due to heavy snows in the mountains and the drivers started out earlier in the morning and also got some training in how to put on snow chains. So far the cars are running well and still have had no major problems. The fleet will be taking their first day off in Yekaterinburg and then handing off to the stage 3 teams. In Stage 3 the teams will be crossing through Kazakhstan before heading into China for stages 4 and 5.

{Source: Mercedes-Benz] Perm-Yekaterinburg

Long-distance drive Paris-Beijing 2006 / Day 12

E-Class Fleet Cross Border into Asia

Long-distance team reaches Yekaterinburg, their destination at the end of the second stage
494 kilometres over the Ural mountains in heavy snow
Weather: fair with occasional cloud, -2 degrees Celsius

Yekaterinburg – Today, twelve days and roughly 6,200 kilometers from the start in Paris, the E-Class long-distance fleet finally reached Asia. In the afternoon, after the crossing of the Urals, blanketed in deep winter snow, the fleet of 36 E-Class diesel vehicles crossed the imaginary dividing line between Europe and Asia. The Russian author Andrey Kurkov, who is taking part in the second stage of the E-Class Experience, seized the opportunity to cross from Europe to Asia on foot.

In view of the wintry conditions, the tour management had brought forward the day's start by an hour, and also arranged an extra briefing early in the morning to give participants detailed, practical instructions on how to use the snow chains. The Russian author Andrey Kurkov was one of those listening carefully to the instructions from the professionals. The international bestselling writer and scriptwriter is one of the international guests on the second stage of the E-Class Experience. Kurkov, who was born in 1961, spent his childhood in Kiev, and today divides his time between his home city and London, where he is a member of the PEN Club. His novels, the best known of which are Petrovich and Death and the Penguin, take an ironic look at life in post-Soviet society.

At the morning start from Perm, it was clear to everyone that an economic recovery is well underway in this city, which is home to Russia's largest oil corporation. There are many private homes made of stone, as well as the traditional Russian wooden structures. "Journalists have told me that conditions here have improved dramatically over the last three years," explained Andrey Kurkov, who speaks eleven different languages. The average income has risen from roughly 200 dollars to 400 dollars, he adds. "And you can live here quite well on 300 dollars."

Unlike the previous day, visibility today was excellent. Despite the deep blanket of snow on the roads, the teams generally made smooth progress, with no major delays. The E-Class vehicles headed for the Ural Mountains through the snowy landscape. This impressive mountain range extends for 2,500 kilometres through the western central part of Russia. Together with the Ural River, the mountains form the imaginary border between Europe and Asia. The big countdown started with 232 kilometres to go: "Only nine kilometers to Asia, only three, only one" – and, under the shadow of the enormous white border monument, a delighted Andrey Kurkov (for the first time in his life) walked from one continent to the next.

After the dividing line, the tour continued through Eurasia in excellent conditions, at times in glorious sunshine – heading down from the mountain terrain of the Urals and on to the vast western Siberian plain, which extends eastwards, covering approximately 2.5 million square kilometers as far as the Central Siberian Highlands. After 494 kilometres of a Russian winter's fairy tale, they finally arrived at the final destination for the day: Yekaterinburg, a major transport hub and the country's fourth-largest city, with just on 1.3 million inhabitants. Previously known as Sverdlovsk, it attained tragic notoriety as the place where the last Russian Czar, Nicholas II, and his family were murdered in 1918. A cathedral now stands on the site of the murders, and is today one of Yekaterinburg's most visited tourist attractions. Kurkov informs us that a further attraction in the former Sverdlovsk is the television tower. Its construction was begun in the late 1980s, but was never completed because funding ran out. Work was therefore stopped at a height of 220 metres. The planned height was over 400 metres.

Yekaterinburg is the final stop on the second of the five stages between Paris and Peking. Tomorrow, the participants in the E-Class Experience will say goodbye and hand over the car keys of "their" E-Class vehicles to the next teams, most of whom have already arrived today by plane.



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