Monday, August 31, 2009

Tour de Timor 2

Day two began with roosters who had what I found out to be an epidemic in Timor-Leste - seriously out-of-whack circadian rhythms. I mean, really, do you have to start crowing at 4:30am? I don't think so.

Yesterday's top riders got pole position and I took my place wherever it seemed like 77th should go. I'd met some Kiwi's and we rode a similar pace so when I found them shortly after the start line we stuck together. I made a couple of attempts to organize a pack and made it clear that everyone drafting should darn well take their turn at the front. Just as I was about to suggest to some of the stronger guys that we leave the hangers-on behind we hit a fast downhill. I saw one guy loose his bottle on a pothole and a moment later I heard mine go too.

Had it been only water I'd have left it, but it was my food source. Having run out of food the previous day I wasn't about to go 2+ more hours with no food. I stopped and turned back to look for it. After several minutes of looking (and many riders passing) I was stopped on the edge of the road and suddenly a police vehicle came screaming up the hill against race traffic. I couldn't believe how fast it was going and the wrong way UP a hill where riders are sure to be flying down. The president had issued strict orders "ZERO traffic against the riders". Little did that driver know it was a career-ending move. He ended up getting reposted to some remote area. Oops.

Things took a positive turn, though, when a woman called from the bottom of the hill. She had a bottle in her hand and as I approached I recognized the thick brownish drink I was so worried about. A man had found it about 10 meters off in the bush and recovered it for me. I gave him a big hug & continued on.

We hit a big downhill on a VERY rocky... road? Well it was sort of a road, and it was definitely rocky. But nothing like the ice cream flavor. I realized a little too late that I had my front suspension locked out. I guess I wanted to feel every single bump and rock. A mistake I don't plan on making twice. I survived the downhill and made it onto some smooth grass and then... puncture. :( I'd put a 3/4 inch slice in my tire too. Garrgh.

With a crowd of village children watching I pulled the wheel off, disassembled the tire, put a tube patch on the inside of the tire, inserted a Singapore $2 note (for added strength), replaced the tube, and started pumping it up again. But somehow the tire bead came off and the tube burst out like some massive goiter. The valve broke off and I had to stab the tube to get it out & start over. Boo!

I finally got on my way and finished the day 133rd.

The village was lovely and lunch was pretty good. It had been a short ride so we had plenty of time to chill, repair, relax, and enjoy.

Each evening, the organizers set up a massive inflatable movie screen and showed the movie Balibo. It's the first-ever feature film about Timor-Leste and the Indonesian invasion. It was great timing as it's release came along with both the Tour de Timor and their 10-year anniversary. Everyone turned up to watch it! Unfortunately everyone didn't exactly want to go home afterward and who could blame them? This was a big deal and they wanted to party. Someone got hold of the DJ booth at 10:00pm and that's when Jesus got involved. His name is actually Sean, but he looks like Jesus.

To finally get everyone to go home (2 hours later), the UN police force had to start patrolling and the elected chief of the village got on the loudspeaker for a good hour telling them to go home. I wasn't the only one worried, but it all ended peacefully.

Tour de Timor 1

Arriving at Changi Airport we had over 20 riders from Singapore and LOTS of excess baggage. Many thanks to Austasia Airlines for not weighing our bags!

A short four-hour flight and we were in Timor-Leste with a VIP welcome. The four Blackhawk helicopters across the runway set the stage for what would be the most exposure I've ever had to United Nations and Australian Military forces. Though I must say I never felt any sense of danger.

The air was pretty thick with racers trying to get a feel for the level of competition. There were quite a few "finishers", but I was a "racer". I've done well in races in Singapore, but this was something altogether different. 450kms over 5 days with riders from all over the world.

The weather was hot and dry so I actually felt nice an comfortable coming from hot & humid Singapore. Advantage: Greg. But it was my first stage race. Advantage: everyone else who had done a stage race before.

Day one started with some pomp & circumstance at the royal palace followed by over 300 mountain bikes and riders lining up at the start line. The president himself did the countdown. Either my adrenaline slowed down my perception of time, or Mr. President counted back from 10 seconds very slowly.

And they're off! The Timor-Leste teams were given pole positions, but everyone was vying for position from the start. I decided to move out of the pack and take a short stint at the front. I surged about 20 meters ahead of the leader and enjoyed the view from the front. I'm glad I did it because we soon hit a hill and the leaders showed their true colors. Adios Amigos.

One rider broke his pelvis on the first downhill and I can see why. Steep hills, sharp curves, cliffs and incognito potholes make a recipe for injury. But we had incredible views of the coast for hours. Two more big hills and some vast, arid no-man's land followed. In the end I dragged a gal from the Malaysian team and a Timorese rider a few kms until gravity absolutely flung me downhill to the finish line.

We were greeted, as in every village, by hundreds of cheering villagers. After a quick swim, I had a massage and we set up camp for the night. It was a great first day.


Timor-Leste celebrated it's 10-year anniversary last Sunday, August 30th. Unfortunately my flight left the day before so I missed the big party. As the youngest country in the world, they must have been pretty excited. Despite having missed such a great celebration, I was blessed with the tremendous opportunity to participate in their first annual Tour de Timor.

Let's rewind a few weeks. Just off the jet-way into Changi Airport, arriving back from my amazing trip to Australia, I received an SMS from my good friend, Grant Knisely. (To whom I'm forever grateful for filming & editing my best job in the world application video). "Are you in Singapore?" said Grant's SMS. "Yes, why?" I reply. "Check your email." said Grant.

My email contained nothing more than a link to Little bits of information jumped out at me. First annual, 450km mountain bike race, Timor-Leste, etc. Needless to say I was excited. Now Grant had told me about the race because he was hoping I'd be interested in helping shoot a documentary of the ladies from The Chain Reaction Project, but I thought it would be fun to ride. Fortunately for Grant, he got all the help he needed.

So my training began. 3 weeks to get race ready and I have to give major props to Fraser Morrison for the amazing training regimen.

Huge credit goes to Hup Leong Bicycle Shop for the demo bike on which I both trained and raced. Gilbert is the man! If you need anything bicycle, head down to Chinatown - at Pearl's Hill & Upper Cross St.