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From nuclear threats to dark-horse celebrity ambassadors, North Korea has made a name for itself as a hotbed of severity, secrecy and scandal.

Tour de North Korea

In a rare event, Western cyclists race through the hermit kingdom.
North Korea bikeEnlarge
A North Korean man cycles near North Korea's border with China. The secretive nation recently allowed Western cyclists to ride through part of its northeast. (Cancan Chu/AFP/Getty Images)

SEOUL, South Korea — It’s not every day that 47 Western bikers can ride through the world’s most reclusive state. 

Yet as part of a race that began in China, athletes zipped through North Korea’s port town of Rajin this week, Reuters reports. Traffic was blocked off, and the cyclists given an unusual stint of freedom to move around the area. (Not that there’s much traffic in North Korea anyway.)

Rajin is a bit different from other parts of North Korea. The town sits inside a special economic zone in the far north of the country, close to the Russian border. American missionary Kenneth Bae was arrested there while entering the surrounding Rason economic zone.

CNN points out that North Korea is hosting the race after a slight diplomatic warming in recent months. Earlier this year, the regime launched a bout of war threats against Seoul and Washington. But the government recently stepped back from its fiery approach and reopened the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where South Korean companies employ cheap North Korean laborers.

Of course, the thaw and the bicycling may be unrelated, since planning for the event could stretch back many months.

Bicycling isn’t the only sport to be welcomed to North Korea in recent years. In 2011, Koryo Tours, a British-run tour company, hosted North Korea’s first Ultimate Frisbee tournament

And, most famously, Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters played an exhibition match in Pyongyang last winter — with Kim Jong Un himself watching.

All of which begs the question: how long before the Red Sox make their debut? 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/today-north-korea/north-korea-bike-cycling-rajin

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