Flying over East Timor in the plane was a harsh wake-up call to what the following week was going to involve. I peered out the window and down to the spectacular and severe mountains below. It was beautiful and harsh, my legs began to ache in anticipation.
It was an early start each morning. We had to have bags packed and loaded on the gear trucks by 6:00 am. It was essential that the gear trucks start at least two hours before we did as they needed to get to the next night's camp before us, and due to the conditions of the roads, we could travel at a much faster speed.
The talk of the road conditions had everyone quite intimidated, mainly because the racing would be done in bunches and when in the bunch, you have a great view of the wheel in front of you and that is all. The frequency of massive potholes, animals, washouts and some huge landslides put everyone on edge. Some of the potholes we came across were deep enough to stand up in. I've never seen anything like it.
Day 1 took us from Dili to Balibo. It was the longest day at 123km but considered the easiest due to the profile, it was mainly flat, following the coast line and then climbing up to the Village of Balibo in the last 20km. I found day 1 really tough, mainly due to the heat and humidity. It was always going to be a day of adjustment, getting the legs going and sorting out hydration.
The energy gained form the locals was AMAZING! Every village we passed through the entire population would be lining the road, cheering, smiling and enjoying what must be a very strange and new spectacle for them. Each village that we stayed in for the night had declared a public holiday for the region as the road had to be completely closed to all traffic, and we were pretty much eating and sleeping in the schools' classrooms.
The president made an appearance at most villages we stopped at. It is "The President's race". He is passionate about rebuilding Timor, and the Tour is just one of many incentives aimed to harbor trust, promote peace by making connections and building relationships with other nations. He considers sport to be a great way promote these values.
Day 2 was said to be the toughest day of the Tour due to the hills. From memory it was 93km, but with some long and very steep climbs. The main climb went for 30km with two King of the Mountain sprints in the space of 10km. It was steep, open, exposed and so, so hot.
But the scenery was amazing When we got to Maliana we traveled along the most spectacular ridgeline through many remote little villages. Unfortunately I had substituted the space in my pockets for food in place of the camera, so I didn't capture any of it, but I was very happy to have the food that day. We had a beautiful descent down in to the town of Suia, which was just of the south coast. We had crossed East Timor in a day.
Unfortunately one of our teammates Gracie came down really hard on the descent and managed to dislocate her shoulder, so out team was down to three racers. On the up side, she got be chaperoned by the president himself in his private chopper back to Dili.
Day 3 was written up as a "rest" day, being only 67km, with 50km of it flat. I found day 3 the hardest. We were back on the coast, so the humidity was huge and the road conditions were the worst yet. At one stage, it had been sealed as there were the token patches of asphalt, but the rest of the road was a myriad of potholes.
As it was flat, the pace was constantly being driven and everyone was trying to ride as big bunch and get a good draft, but the potholes made the bunch really erratic. When the front guys were accelerating out of potholes, we were just hitting them, so it was like a huge elastic band trying to hold the wheel and not loose the bunch.
After 40km of this we then hit the "best" section of sealed road in the whole of East Timor, pretty much smooth hotmix asphalt, beautiful! From here, we climbed up to the beautiful village of Ainaro.
Day 4 was another spectacular hill climbing day. We started climbing immediately out of Ainaro for about 30km, then had a series of smooth fast descents down to the village of Aileu.
Finally the flags signalled the KOM and the oncoming descent. I actually had to zip my jersey up for the descent, we had gained quite a bit of altitude today, reaching the highest point on the tour at 1900m.
On day 5, we all had smiles, as we were mainly descending back down to the coast and finishing the tour in Dili. It was a little exciting as there was a small singletrack section and we were all keen to feel the dirt and rocks underneath or tires.
As we approached the Presedential Palace, we found the streets of Dili lined with people for many kilometers, as close to the Tour De France as I'll ever get!
What an amazing week it had been including some tough racing. I feel I have been very lucky to experience such a beautiful and unique country. I will definitely be putting Timor down in the calendar for next year!