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Tour de Timor starts Monday

There were plenty of big hills in Timor.

There were plenty of big hills in Timor. (Image credit: Russ Baker)

The Tour de Timor will kick off on September 13 and run through September 17. It's the richest mountain bike race in the Southern hemisphere, with a $US100,000 prize list

The 2010 race follows a different track from last year's tour of central Timor-Leste. This year's course travels west from Dili along the scenic coastline, past Portuguese forts and stops on the first night in the historic town of Balibo. The place is steeped in the Australian and Timorese consciousness and was the subject of the gripping drama Balibo. The finish line is alongside of "Australia House" - a memorial to the five Australian newsmen killed during the Indonesian invasion. The house where they were executed is just across the road and remains much as it was that day.

Day 2 will wind through the farm and rice plains of Maliana to Suai and the lush valleys of Ermera coffee country. This finish line is in front of the city's partly-built new cathedral. The huge building was started before independence in 1999, and today many of the skilled artisans working to complete it are Indonesian. It is hoped to have the building finished around May next year.

On days 3 and 4, riders will climb through the mountainous areas of Ainaro and Maubisse - up and over "Horta's Heartbreak Hill" at 1900 metres.

His Excellency the President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta, welcomed riders back. "You are all heroes and each and every one of you are special friends of the people of Timor-Leste. I am delighted to invite riders, both new and returning, to experience the world's toughest bike race, in Asia's newest nation."

Unseasonal torrential rains just a few weeks ago have washed away bridges and large sections of roads. Riders will have to be especially alert to avoid the massive pot holes that dot the course. The tracks into Suai on day 2 are a nightmare, even in a four-wheel drive. Suai is sometimes referred to as the "forgotten" city because it gets cut off from Dili by big rains. There are a number of detours across rivers where the bridges have been badly damaged.

And once again, perhaps the most dangerous and unpredictable obstacles are the goats, pigs and chickens.

More Timorese racers are expected this year. There will be a team each from the Timor-Leste National Defence Force, Police Force and Firefighters, two National Cycling Federation Teams and 13 district teams from right across Timor.