Ten years on and I see an amazing country. I see children in schools with uniforms and books, 700 of them on bikes for the ‘Ride for Peace’, cheering everyday as they lined the roads with cow-bells, laughing at the sight of a female with her jersey unzipped. The people are inspiring and humbling and in every way beautiful, and they had invited us to share this momentous occasion with them, 10 years of independence.
It was my second time at the Tour De Timor, my biggest race for the year as it boasts not only an International field but a massive prize pool of over $100,000US. The tour stretches over 6 days, 600kms, with varying terrain that can only be completed on a MTB and is always done so in over 40deg temperatures, with chill time in a tent. If you think you like camping, Timor may change your mind!
Imagine camping on rocks, with a jumper as your pillow, next to an animal farm, kept awake from groaning generators and blinding campsite lights, oh and the stench from the nearby overflowing long drops and ‘shower with a bucket’ amenities. When you awake, you cue in line for an hour to eat recycled cold noodles from last nights dinner, and then wash it down with instant coffee if you’re in to that sort of thing. You do all of this, throw in a few hours of bike riding and then imagine…this is luxury living compared to the local Timorese peering over the fence at you.
In terms of the race, there is some massive media hype surrounding it. My jaw went sore on the start line from posing for photos before kicking off Stage 1 with my last minute assembled team. Partner Jarrod Moroni, Phil ‘the further I ride the quicker I get’ Orr and Ash ‘possibly the unluckiest man in the world’ Hyatt made up the mixed team as J&P in Orr (clearly Ash joined after we had named the team). We had no real race plan, which was a good thing as our team curse would mould the happenings of the tour for us. Last year I had three crashes, a skin reaction to one of the bush's I crashed into, two punctures, many a chain problem, and visited the medical tent EVERY day, so fingers crossed that this year would be different!
Day 1: Dili to Mota'ain: I had a slow leak pre-race, but shot a canister into it on the start line and it held up well. Ash lost his crank and as a result 29minutes, then Phil punctured with 5kms to go. Jarrod finished fourth and I was first female home, donning the pink jersey which fit a little too perfect to want to take it off!
Off the bike: Our bags nearly missed the morning truck which would have meant no luggage for the tour! I hand-washed for two as Jarrod isn't fond of the task, and then made him set the tent up in sweltering heat while I waited in the 35degree shaded...so cool hmm
Day 3: Oecusse Loop: Dry, dusty, steep and HOT! The first hill climb day saw me in a bit of trouble from the pace with the boys the two days prior. I had a puncture that sealed early on, lost my only drink bottle, and also ended up losing the stage in a tough sprint to Lisa Jacobs. Meanwhile ahead of me, Ash was in a leading two-man break and looking to win the stage before having a local walk onto the road infront of him resulting in a nasty head-on crash! Phil and Jarrod were lucky enough to be untouched by our team curse for a day.
Off the bike: Despite being on the coast for most of the tour, there was only one location crocodile free that we could swim, and today was it! The water was apparently cold to the local children who had gathered to watch us swim, as they would all run from the water to roll in the hot sand and warm their bodies back up. I would have taken a photo to post but most of them were naked...and jail isn't nice in any country. We heard on the grapevine about some local accommodation and quickly jumped on a room. The toilet didn't flush, we didn't have power until 6pm, and we had no air-con at all, but we had beds..well Ash only had a mattress on the floor to soothe his wounds, but this was still better than a tent!
Day 4: Pante Makassar to Mota'ain: A flat ride back across the border but an eventuful day on the mens GC. Jarrod went up the road to finish fifth, and I took my third stage win. Fellow Australian Peter Ketschera took over the yellow jersey from the leading Malaysian Shahrin Amir with a ballsy break-away into the penultimate stage. Our flat days were done and it was time to bring on the climbing legs.
Off the bike: We had crossed the border for the third and final time, returning to our camp in Mota'ain. The long drops weren't so long anymore and two day old faeces still remained on the seats. It's about this time that 1 in 5 people have had or get some type of food poisoning and I could feel my own stomach reacting. I kept to my staple dry rice and one piece of chicken in the hope it would re-fuel me enough to suffer through the toughest day on tour.
Stage 5: Mota'ain to Gleno: The penultimate stage was here and after a hard four days I held a 40minute lead over Apollo rider Lisa Jacobs. I could have had an easier day, but after losing out on stage three I was out to prove that I could win this tour on a climb! An early 8km hill split the field for what I thought would be a very long day, but an in-humane descent and then chase from Jarrod saw me re-join the lead bunch of guys not long after.
I used ever bit of my worth to survive the rough terrain and intense dry heat as the Apollo Team drove to catch the break-away that was threatening Pete's yellow jersey. I became delirious to the point where I couldn't even force down gels or water. When I hit the final climb it was a relief! Jarrod and I sat up and tackled the steep first 4kms in 40minutes! Jarrod zig-zagged from one patch of shade to the next while we talked about the cannibal land we were riding through and complained about the 30km climb ahead of us.. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else or with anyone else :)
Day 6: Gleno to Dili: I rode the entire final stage on my own once leaving the boys just 4kms in. It was my favourite stage as we climbed through the local villages; I was stealing beverages from the feed stations to give to the children as I passed. And then on my decent my jaw once again became sore from smiling. As I turned back along the coast for the final stretch on my own I could hear the grinding of dirt and oil on my chain (not washed for a week), combined with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and it was so serene. I felt strong, resilient and fearless. Maybe the traits of the Timorese rub off on you during the tour, or maybe such a journey simply changes you. You'll have to experience it to find out..
In the end I finished 10th overall and won the female category by 1hr30min over Masziyaton Mohd Radzi from Malaysia. Lisa Jacobs was sitting in second after four stages, but was forced to withdraw from the tour after a tough Day 5 saw her suffer severe heat exhaustion.
Thanks go firstly to my sponsors Anytime Fitness, TREK, Adidas Eyewear, 4Shaw and Moronis Bikes. Thank you to the Timorese people for their hospitality, Mark Barends as race organiser, and of course the unwavering dedication of the many volunteers. I need to make it clear that these experiences are only as good as the people you share them with, and often they are people you meet along the way so thanks to my 'sugar daddy' Craig and his best mate Rich! And of course my team-mates Phil and Ash, and most importantly my partner Jarrod, without whom I would never have discovered the magical sport of MTB'ing.
Results: Tour De Timor
Garmin: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 5, Stage 6
Photos: Courtesy of Zoe Morley Photography, Urban Safari and Russ Baker