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First Welsh woman to complete Siberian challenge

Maria Leijerstam has cycled over the largest frozen lake in the world. Photo: Maria Leijerstam

A woman from the Vale of Glamorgan has returned to Wales after taking part in one of the strangest challenges on earth.

Three weeks ago Maria Leijerstam cycled alone, for 350 miles over the frozen surface of Lake Baikal in Siberia - the largest lake in the world.

It took Maria only 7 days and 4 hours to complete the race where she covered approximately 900km as she weaved her way around huge sastrugi ice fields and deep snow.

It only took Maria 7 days and 4 hours to complete the race Credit: Maria Leijerstam

She was second to a local Russian Cyclecross Champion and out of 20 starters one of only eight to finish.

Many other competitors succumbed to the extreme conditions through frost bite, fatigue, a fall through the ice and one team even managed to burn down their tent.

Due to the unusually high day time temperatures the ice had already begun to crack and so cycling on the ice was not just a matter of fitness, it also meant being very lucky to avoid open water which would have lightly re-frozen at night as temperatures dipped down to minus 27 degrees.

On a few days the wind was so fierce that I simply could not stay on the bike as it was blown from underneath me. On other days I was having to work really hard as I peddled through deep snow fields. Only occasionally I was able to enjoy a tail wind on pure unbroken ice. It was a race of massive extremes

– Maria Leijerstam

Maria's tent routine at night was vital as the extreme cold temperatures dictated survival. The minute she stopped cycling she would have to put on her down jacket and begin erecting her tent.

Once both the tent and bike were firmly secured with ice screws she would climb into her tent with her roll mat, sleeping bag, stove and food.

Then began the arduous task of melting snow to make vital water for drinking and for rehydrating her food rations which took anything up to an hour and a half.

At night Maria would lie awake listening to the ice cracking underneath her tent and on a few occasions even heard gurgling water as it began to get closer to the surface.

On one day she did take a brief involuntary dip as her front wheel sank right down and she flew over the handlebars. It took the 33 year old four hours to dry off huddled over her stove

Despite the months of preparation and the extreme conditions Maria is already planning her next expedition.

Lake Baikal, known as the Pearl of Siberia is a beautiful place but now I have completed both The Siberian Black Ice Race 2012 and the warm challenge of the Marathon Des Sables in 2007 I'm ready for more

– Maria Leijerstam

ITV Wales' reporter Lorna Prichard caught up with Maria before she left for Siberia to see how she had been preparing for this unique challenge.