Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tour de Timor, part 1

You can’t tell exactly how people will respond when you tell them you’re going to live in Cambodia. But you can be pretty confident they won’t say, “Oh, great. That sounds lovely”, or “Ah, I’ve always wanted to go there.” It’s not like if you’re off to Paris or Prague. I’ve had countless responses, but there are some fairly common themes that seem to pop up, such as, “Oh, why?” and “Oh, be careful” and “Oh, isn’t it dangerous there? Isn’t there some guy called Pol Pot or something?” always accompanied with raised eyebrows and a slightly tilted head.

The entire race route was adorned with decorations such as this in Dili

It is true that Cambodia was very dangerous for almost all of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Lots of people were killed. You’ve probably heard about it. If not, go and do some reading; start with the Cold War, that will take you into the Vietnam War, then move on to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Anyway, Cambodia isn’t dangerous anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. It wasn’t dangerous when I was here almost a decade ago. Poland’s not dangerous anymore either. Neither is Stalingrad or Austria or Italy. They all were at one stage of course.

A Laclubar church

So when I told people I was competing in the Tour de Timor, I wasn’t surprised when they said, “Oh, be careful” and “Is it safe there?” “Yes, it’s safe there…” Yes, there was a war in East Timor, but it’s over now folks. Sure, you’ve probably got a better chance of dying in Cambodia or East Timor than in some other places, but the chances are very low. I could almost as easily die in Melbourne from a bike crash or a car accident.

My motto regarding these things is, “All care but no concern.” By which I mean, I will try not to die but I won’t waste my time agonising over how it might happen. Speaking of which, I’m about to board a plane; I hope I don’t die. (I didn’t die).

So, this being a cycling blog, I guess I should talk about cycling. Or blog about it or something. OK, here goes; this was the third Tour de Timor. Over the six days, we rode nearly 600 kilometres and climbed about 6,000 metres. All of the riding was on roads. Some were good, some were terrible and some were in between.

The anticipation was palpable at the start line on day one outside the Palacio Presidente

Stage 1

Stage one saw us pedal 111kms from Dili to Laclubar. For me, this proved to be the hardest stage, not because it was the hardest stage, but because I didn’t eat enough coupled with the fact that it was still quite hard.

The first 75km were all right. Then, at about that point, I started to feel crap. This feeling corresponded with the road pointing upwards. So, despite being most of the way through, I managed to stretch out these last 35km to about 4 hours. If that doesn't sound very fast, it's because it's not. I started having all sorts of bad thoughts. I passed a couple of horses and found myself scorning my parents for not bringing me up on a farm. If they had, surely I would have been able to whisper something to the proud mares and they would have understood who I was and duly hauled me up the hill. Instead, with no horse-whispering skills, I huffed and puffed by while the horseys kept on munching.

Then I started to think that I should have found a drug dealer in Dili. I could have bought some speed and ridden like Anquetil who once stated, "You think we can win this on bread and water alone?" Sure, he was talking about the Tour de France, but for me, the Tour de Timor is the Tour de France. But then I thought that had I gone the Anquetil route I could well end up like poor Tommy Simpson, who died during the 1967 Tour (de France) from a combination of heat, exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines. Sure, I was never planning on getting drunk, but the combination of the other three alone doesn't sound healthy.

As the road continued to rise and rise, I called it names, dirty names that can't be repeated here. I don't know if this name-calling helped, I can't say for sure, but it certainly didn't hurt. I prayed for snow and got a gust of wind instead; not a bad compromise I thought. I started to cramp but managed to will it away. Not long after, I found myself willing it back, just so that I'd have an excuse to get off for a bit. I prayed to God, Buddha, Alla and the Devil. I summoned the spirits of Merckx, Bobet, Hinault and Gilbert.

The steep section of the climb, between 90 and 100km took 2 hours. It was often faster to walk. But finally, after 6 hours and 45 minutes, I made it to Laclubar. I was empty but happy, maybe even a bit elated. The winner, Adrian Jackson, finished over two and half hours before me. So, my aim to come in within 150% of the winner's time was not realised on day one.

Stage 2 

Before the beginning of Stage 2, I heard a foreign voice say to me, "Good morning, how are you?" I turned to see I was being greeted by none other than José Ramos-Horta. The East-Timorese president had been hanging around the day before as well, driving himself around in his Mini Moke. On the day he greeted me, he was strolling around the compound, SLR slung over his shoulder. While not into men myself, I can see how José is popular among those who are. I mean, since Che's off the cards (unless, you're a, you know, necrophiliac), who else have you got to turn to if you're into freedom-fighters? So, that was a nice start to the day.
Housing in Beacu, the finishing town for Stage 2

Despite looking like an easy day, Stage 2 was probably the hardest. All that downhill bit was ruined by being peppered with uphill bits. So while there is obviously a drop in altitude, the amount of time spent climbing in that first section far outweighed the time descending. In fact, the first 65km took me almost 4 hours. The roads were rough too, so rough, in fact, that I had some problems with my urethra, which I'll get to later.


The last 55km were lovely. Generally flat and pretty good roads. I hooked up with a few other riders and we rode together to the finish. We finished in about 6 hours 15 minutes, a full 3 minutes inside my 150%! So that was good.

Kids playing on the beach in Beacu

It was not long after the finish that I went to the toilet. In my life, the colour of my urine has varied between quite yellow and completely clear. Usually, it's got a tinge of yellow. That's about as exciting as the colour spectrum of my piss has ever been. That is, until my urination at the end of Stage 2 when my twinkle came out looking more like a light Pinot. Despite very limited medical knowledge, this was of some concern to me. As such, I trotted over to the medical tent and explained my predicament. After some long chats with a couple of doctors, I was sure that I was in good hands. These guys were pros. The head doctor thought it was most likely trauma of the urethra caused by the rough roads. They tested my urine, which despite having returned to its normal colour, still contained microscopic traces of blood.

The legendary Tinker Juarez enjoying a beer at the end of Stage 2. I overheard one punter say of him, "I never knew he was so androgynous." Well there you go, now you know.

Since my return to Phnom Penh, I've had more urine tests, blood tests and an ultrasound to make sure there was nothing more sinister involved. And there's not, so that's good. Nor am I pregnant.

Volleyball's popular in these parts

So, that's the first two stages. I'll get around to writing about the last four some time soon...


  1. Fabulous description and photos LG - I give you an A++.

  2. Oh and that Tinker person has a cool name (besides all his other attributes). Did you interview him? Did you tell him that perhaps he should change the spelling of his name? Sorry that nothing I ever say is bike related. Bikes Bikes Bikes.

  3. Tremendous. thoroughly enjoyable and that's how i like my reads so you hit the nail on the head. Looking forward to part two. x
    p.s. (i meant the kiss)

  4. Good work Laurence!! What an achievement! A great read x

  5. Thanks for telling the world about your pinot piss, that was definitely the highlight for me