Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tour de Timor, part 3

Stage 5

I realise that I lied slightly when I said that I slept soundly all night except for my 2am pisses. While I did indeed sleep well, I didn’t always sleep soundly. This was mainly due to the chickens. While not overly knowledgeable about country things, a fact supported by my inability to convince the horses to tow me up the hill during stage one, I was always fairly confident that chickens (or is it roosters?) did the cocker-doodle-doo thing at or around sunrise. It turns out that this is not the case, or at least not so in East Timor. In East Timor, they cockered and they doodled and they dooed all night long. They may well have been doing it all day too, but I didn’t notice. It’s not something you notice in the day but it sure as hell is something that gets through to you during sleepy time. Still, despite these rude chickens, I still slept well. I can’t help but feel they were very healthy chickens. Again, I don’t know much about farm affairs but surely such loud protestations are the sign of a healthy chook.

Some of Team Goldilocks in Manatuto

Ooohhh, juxtaposition!

Medicine Faculty

The penultimate stage took us mostly along the coast from Com to Manatuto. At 142km, it was the longest stage and therefore cause for concern for many of us. But as we had learnt throughout the race, distance doesn’t always mean a whole lot on a mountain bike. As a rough guide, I’ve always said that mountain biking a certain distance on mountain bike trails takes about twice as long as road riding on a road. Mind you, this is a very rough guide, as mountain bike trails vary greatly. Fortunately for us, the mountain bike trail between Com and Manatuto was in fact an almost perfect asphalt road. So, it goes without saying, yet say it I will, that we were in for a treat.

Tour de Timor; nailed!

I spent the whole day with team Goldilocks, who had kindly adopted me earlier in the race. We worked together to cover the course in 5 hours 21 minutes, not much more than an hour off the winner’s time. The only blip of the day was a 12km climb near the middle of the stage. While not overly pleasant for my fatiguing legs, the crowds lining the roads offered welcome support, as did the shade of the trees. And since this was a coastal road, the ascent kindly offered up a descent. And it was a spectacular descent with beautiful ocean views and exhilarating sweeping corners. Again, there is nothing like descending on a closed road. I highly recommend it if you ever get a chance.

Camping in a school

We spent the night in an old school, replete with alphabet cards, number charts, wooden chairs and desks, chalk boards and students’ work. In the playground was a concrete slide (which wasn’t very slidy) and lots of decaying concrete structures. It was funny to think that even with a list of OH&S risks infinitely long and no laptops or interactive whiteboards in sight, the students still managed to survive and learn. And before you get all uppity, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t care about technology or student safety, but I often wonder how much difference it makes and what kids are missing, both in schools lacking resources and in modern, relatively well off schools.

This was also the last time we would be using the temporary showers and toilets, both of which you’d normally complain about but during this race I’d come to appreciate and even be excited about. The showers consisted of a metal pipe that ran barely six feet off the ground, with taps protruding intermittently. Between each tap was a wall of black plastic that flapped in the wind, with some chicken wire reinforcements. These makeshift walls were high enough to provide some privacy but low enough to allow showerers to chat to each other. While the water supply was piddly, I looked forward to these showers at stage’s end each day with gay abandon, especially when I got my hands on some soap on about day 3. I won’t go into the toilets too much. I’ll just say they were there and they didn’t smell too much and they were partitioned using the same black plastic and there was usually toilet paper.

The joys of playing in the sand in Manatuto

Stage 6

The final stage from Manatuto to Dili started at 6.30am, earlier than previous stages. This was no doubt because, as it says in the Rider Information Booklet, “President Ramos-Horta’s ever expanding events and vision has created a complete shutdown of Dili…to create a spectacle of peace and celebration for the entire city…The morning in Dili will be ‘green’: no cars and no motorbikes.” While this statement reeks of politics, it’s no doubt a nice sentiment.

This guys completed the whole race, which was a huge achievement (notice his left leg). And he got a new bike for his troubles, from the president no less!

Like the previous stage, the 85km were mostly on good fast roads. For me, the flatter sections of the stage were OK but the two major hills of the day were not enjoyable. By this point my legs were well and truly worn out and they did not like making me go up. But I hung with the Goldilocks crew and hauled myself over the ascents.

Near the end of the stage, there was what the Rider Information Booklet described as a “special 6.5km downhill MTB gauntlet run through the dry Comoro river bed.” Now, throughout the race, we had learnt not to fully trust the information provided by this booklet, but this “downhill MTB gauntlet” was by far the most flagrant case of misrepresentation of the entire race. If no one had told me that this was a river, I wouldn’t even have been able to tell you that I was riding downhill. In fact, even if someone had said it was a river but not that I was riding in the downstream direction, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you if I was riding up or down. In the end, it was a dusty, rocky labyrinth of half paths that was akin to riding on the moon, except with gravity which only served to slow us down since it wasn’t downhill.

Post race celebrations in the presidential palace

After the dust bowl, there were only a few more kilometers to the end, and while they were flat, I was really struggling. Still, I hung on to Goldilocks and we crossed the line together. I was screwed which I guess means I dosed my effort over the six days pretty well. I drank a Coke, a bottle of Powerade and a bottle of water, which had become my custom on completion of a stage, and then went to the weighing station, as did everyone, to make sure I hadn’t lost or gained too much weight during the day. Then I lay down in front of a fan and began to recover.


  1. A nice description of the Tour. It's also as close as I ever want to get to riding it I think. Well done.

  2. Awesome report. Good reading as I'm thinking of entering 2012's race. Cheers.

  3. Cheers Hamish. Glad you enjoyed it. You will enjoy the race even more!