Any race overseas is going to be exciting, but the first mountain bike race to be held in East Timor, the Tour de Timor, met all of our riders' expectations and made the rest of us very jealous that we couldn't be there. The country's hospitality for the inaugural race was outstanding. Here's what our riders experienced.
Tory Thomas enjoys the warmth of the locals
The Tour de Timor was one of the best experiences of my life. Each morning, as I rolled up my swag and slopped on the sunscreen, I had no idea what to expect; there was just so much diversity crammed in to each day, it was pretty overwhelming. The scenery and landscapes were incredibly diverse, ranging from sandy and vast sugarcane fields, stunning rugged coastline, lush forest, and spectacular rugged mountains. We rode through so many villages. The people lined the streets and cheered and smiled, and they offered food and water. They were so welcoming and friendly.
So much effort had been invested in the race. Each morning, a convoy would travel ahead to try and clear the road of hazards (namely - pigs, goats, horses, chickens and dogs!). We had full military support for the entire race, and as we moved from village to village, the care and effort of the locals was made obvious in the elaborate structures they built for us (showers, dining halls, undercover areas) and with the meals they provided.
The racing itself was tough - there's no shortage of steep hills and demoralizing open flat road in Timor-Leste! Like many of the riders, for me the racing was made even tougher by the heat and humidity, and also by a constantly upset tummy (I won't elaborate on that!). But these challenges paled in comparison to the things that made the racing so enjoyable - namely, the changing and colourful scenery, the thousands of cheering people lining the course, and the friendliness and support of the other riders and event volunteers and supporters.
Luke Fetch wins Under 20 category while helping his team to a win
Not knowing what to expect from a country with this kind of past was kinda cool. The welcome we received once we landed was very warm. The race was definitely going to be a something I'd never forget!
Racing through towns lined with school children, farmers and military personnel all cheering and clapping was brilliant. The roads and tracks took us over some truly amazing terrain with such varying backdrops.
One minute we were in single-file gutter action on windy coastal roads, and the next minute we were attacking each other, climbing through little villages with beautiful waterfalls and under canopies of trees protecting us from the sun. The race was shaping up to be an epic.
It covered about 450kms over five days in ridiculous humidity and 35-plus degrees (Celsius) everyday. The event organizers were wrong when they said, "bring you sense of adventure." They should have told us to bring our ice packs.
The highlight for me was during stage two when Steele and I got into a breakaway and stayed away for the whole time, I managed to get second place. Steele unfortunately managed to loose lots of skin, gain five stitches and miss out on a stage result - quite lucky for coming off at 60kmph on a gravel road!
Another highlight was hanging out after the stages with the team, experiencing the culture, tasting the food and exploring new towns. While the racing at the pointy end of the field was quite difficult, it was also a lot of fun.
Back home, you can drive a car down our roads, but on these roads you need a 4x4. Some of the potholes were huge, and if we had them here, it would take Vic roads (council) at least three weeks to fix each hole!
Coming into Dili on the final stage was unbelievable! The crowds were three to five deep for the last 10km. It was Tour de France style with everyone excited and yelling and throwing confetti. I think all of Dili was out cheering us on. Having an event like this where everyone is involved was a truly unique experience.
The finish line was at the Timor Palace where the media was everywhere along with spectators cheering and encouraging all the riders home. Having completed this race, which covered some truly unique and beautiful country, was something special to everyone that competed, and I'm sure everyone will be lining up to do it again next year.
We had four riders race the inaugural Tour de Timor (Tory, Tim, Steele & Luke), as you can see, it is something not to be missed next year.
In the mixed team, we finished first, and Tory won the female category, Steele came sixth overall which was truly amazing considering the damage his body took on days two and five (stitches & more stitches). I guess that's why he's named Steele! Luke was eighth overall and won the junior Under 20 category.
I think, to sum this race up, the Tour de Timor is all about great scenery, great riding, great company. It was an excellent event with good organization from everyone involved and all of their support crews.
We look forward to next year.
Team Torq Manager