Crocodile Trophy #4

Every year the Crocodile Trophy gets better and better and I have gotten closer and closer to the overall title.  The 9 day race through the outback of North Eastern Australia is a blast and a real engaging challenge with its variety of hard courses and great outback experiences.  With it becoming classified as a UCI S1 race this year there were lots of valuable UCI points on the line for the World Ranking system which is part of every Nations Olympic qualification process.  What was already a tough race with the rough outback conditions, heat, tough mining roads, twisting single-track and deadly creatures now become a real battle with 10-12 of the Worlds top marathon racers taking part in the 100 competitor race to battle it out over 700 km.

The days leading up to the race were spent relaxing at the Tropic Days backpacker hostel and had me feeling refreshed and fired up for stage 1, a 5 lap, 30 km cross county race on some really easy trails in the same area were the Cairn World Cup was hosted earlier this year.  Lap 1 went alright but by lap 3 my head was over doing circles in the bushes on what was a very dizzying course with little technical challenges.  By lap 4 I had a full on meltdown and lost nearly 5 minutes to the leader by the end of the race as there were loose connections in my system some where.  No worries though, every stage race there is a rough day and I got mine out of the way on day 1!

Stage 2 is a classic Croc stage climbing out of Cairns through some very steep rough jungle roads, briefly into the dusty outback and then back over a 10 km climb through the jungle before descending down to Lake Tinaroo for the finish.  It’s always one of the most decisive days in the Croc and was very important in this years race as it was guaranteed to eliminate at least half of the overall contenders and I didn’t want to be one of them.    Heading up the first climb, 2012 winner Ivan Rybarik, Portuguese Olympian David Rosa and myself had a descent gap over the rest of the field before I hit a rock and lost my climbing gear, losing valuable time trying to fix it then having to run up the steep climbs without the easy gear at my disposal.  Soon after I would come upon Ivan you had flatted, David who was cracking a bit, thus leaving unknown Norwegian rider Greg Saw alone in front.  After losing another minute at the feed station trying to fix the gears, it was into chase mode to catch up to the chase pack of 3 riders behind Greg.  Things would shuffle a bit more by the end of the stage with Greg taking a 3 minute win ahead of 3 of us chasing hard behind.

Stage 3 was a 3 x 20 km loop on some very typical swooping Aussie single-track.  This sort of course is all about carrying your momentum around endless berms and has little areas to really put the diesel down and is all about swooping.   We let the smiling Portuguese flyweight David Rosa take the lead early on as he was already an hour down on GC after a wheel malfunction on stage 1 and not in contention.  My body was offline this day, not sure what it was but I was hurting right from the start and made sure to get into the singletrack ahead of the rest of the contenders to try and slow the pace down.  This worked for the first lap before they attacked on the 2nd lap, leaving my smoking body to push through two more laps of the fun but unrythmic course.  It was another meltdown which I tried to manage as best as possible but still lost around 7 minutes to the top contenders and was nearly 15 minutes back from the leaders jersey by the end of the day.    It was De ja vu to the Croc Trophy in 2013 when I spotted the overall winner Mark Frendo a 10 minute lead in the opening stages after trying to recover from a 24 hour race 5 days previously.  In these Stage races it is really important to grab the lead early on as trying to come back later on is nearly impossible as all the leader has to do is suck your wheel and stay out of the wind.  I had dug myself a big hole again this year and was unsure whether or not I could get the body back online before the deficit was too large to overcome.

Austrian friend Martin Wisata and I had a big Bar-Bar with the physiotherapists this night.  We started a tradition last year in which we all dump are bags of protein bars on a table and do tradeoffs and eat till were primed for another day on the bike.  Sometimes it works, other times it leaves us with gut aches.

Stage 4 started with a steep 4 km climb from the start.  I was dropped early on and then the legs magically came back on line and it was game on!  Heading over the top I had a small lead over race leader Greg Saw but started to run into troubles as a herd of 4 cows were in the middle of the dirt road stampeding ahead.  I tried to get around them but they were stubborn and kept in the way.  It was sort of fun as I began feeling like a cowboy on my Dad’s ranch in Mcbride as I marshalled the cows along for a couple minutes before one of them, a big bull got pissed, turned around and faced me with his head down.  Already too close to stop or turn around I was a bit screwed as the Bull shook is head and stomped his feat.  It was a shocker but my Dad being a true cowboy had always taught me we are higher up in the food chain and to never be afraid of a Cow so I rode straight at the Bull and last second vered to the left into the ditch,  just out of reach of its flayling horns.

This had stunned the bull and now it was super pissed, turning around trying to kick me and then taking off down the road in a  full charge towards Greg who was about 200 ft behind.  Greg yelled as he dove off his bike and ran into the woods, just nearly missing becoming the Bulls rag doll.  The Bull finally took off, and Greg came back out of the woods nearly as fast as he went in as he had jumped into an infamous stinging tree.  We would ride together for a bit after the incident before I managed to drop him and would ride 60 km solo through a great mix of steep climbs, bushy jungle tracks and rough mining roads.  It was one of the best Croc stages ever as I gained nearly 3 minutes by the finish line over Greg and his riding companion Ramses from the Netherlands.

Stage 5 was another Classic Croc stage racing over a mix of rough mining tracks and hot outback gravel roads from Atherton to Irvinebank.  There were alot of snakes snaking around this day with one large black one making a few of us nervous as it slithered around.  The race itself was going to plan with Greg, Ramses and I riding together as I planned an attack over the last 35 km of the course as I remembered it as being very hard from years past.  Unfortunately as we arrived at the 2nd feed we were notified the course had been shortened by 30 km due to a missing bridge.  Immediatley attacking my riding partners I road away pretty easily but could only gain around 1.5 minutes over the last 10-15 km of the race.  Greg had been hurting this day after a rough sleep due to the pain from the stinging tree and was lucky the course had been shortened from 100km down to 65 km as some serious time could’ve been made up this day.

The small outback town of Irvinebank had traditionally been the heart of the Croc experience with it’s local pub and Hill Billy band but this year the pub had shutdown.  We had alot more sleep as a result but it was sad to see this place so sleepy.  Starting stage 6 I rode hard off the line as I tried to take advantage of Greg and his hurting state.   This backfired as the body wasn’t happy with this early effort and went into shutdown mode.  For the next hour I struggled, politely asking my body to come back around as Greg, Ivan, Ramses and Milton gained nearly 4 minutes.  It took alot of patients but eventually the body gave me the green light to start riding hard again and over a 30 km section of rough track I made up the 4 min deficit to the leaders and attacked them as soon as I got there.  Getting a small gap on a rough descent I pushed hard the final 30 km to the finish into a headwind.   It was hard ride solo but I managed to hold off the chase pack to claim another stage victory, but again just gaining over a minute on Greg and his leaders jersey.  He was lucky to have such good allies working for him as it really dampened my efforts to claw back large amounts of time on him.

One of the side stories of the Croc this year was the 4 man Japanese film team which was following Yuki Ikeda through the race to make a 2 hour documentary for Japan television.  I can’t wait to see there footage as they were everywhere.  Yuki was a trooper as he walked around with a video camera in his face during every waking moment.  It started to get hilarious as everywhere we would go there would be a Japanese video camera catching the action.   One day they even “accidently” followed Yuki into the shower room before turning around after seeing all the naked euro asses in there.   They also had two riders following us with helmet cameras every stage.  This could be the best race documentary ever once it comes out, minus the euro ass part!

Stage 7 was an old school flat roady type croc stage.  Greg stayed on my wheel for the stage as I tried attacking whenever the roads got rough but couldn’t quite shake him.   The stage ended at the Skybury Coffee plantation which specializes in Coffee, Papaya and bananas.  It was a splendid afternoon sitting up on the cafe deck loading up on Papaya and coffees and could be the best Croc stage host ever.

Stage 8 started with a long 60 km into headwinds which kept the race together before hitting some undulating hills in the jungle to the finish.  I kept attacking Greg as he was struggling again on this stage but the hills weren’t long enough to get much of a gap as on the descents and flat roads afterwards his allie Ramses with the help of a couple other riders would work together to pull me back in.  Eventually after the 5th or 6 attack we hit a real hill and Greg would be dropped for good, but once again I could gain just over 2 minutes in the last 15 km of the course as Ramses worked his butt off for Greg again to keep him close.   I’m not sure if Greg and Ramses were old teammates or if Greg was paying him but Ramses did an army load of work for Greg to keep him in the leaders jersey.

The stage ended at Weatherby outback station, a classic Australian ranch.  We ate some great beef and had another Bar-Bar as we prepped for the last stage of the croc, a 30 km time trial down to the beaches of Port Douglas.  With the gap to Greg down to 6 minutes it was unlikely I could catch him on the last stage but if he had a flat tire and I had the ride of my life it could be enough.   Being the 2nd last rider to set off on the stage I pushed hard and was getting time gaps putting me in the lead for the stage.  The legs were firing good, a little too good as I pedalled through a twisty jungle section at 30-40 km an hour, catching my pedal on a hanging vine which tore my bike right from under me.  As I flew through the air all I could think was “where the hell did my bike go?”  It was a rough landing, luckily resulting in no serious bodily harm but my handlebars were bent backwards which took a bit to get fixed before continueing on.  At this point it was time to get to the finish line in one piece without anymore dramas.  The  last 4 km of the race was unreal as we raced along the beach of Port Douglas to the finish line.  The croc always picks the best spots to finish these epic races.  There’s nothing like diving into some fresh ocean water after a long dusty week on the bike!

This was by far the best Croc ever, the organization is solid, the courses are great, and the camping and hanging out with other riders in the outback make this race second to none.  After two consecutive 2nd places here I will hopefully get a chance to come back one more time to try and finish this thing off.

As far as my bike (Kona Kina Kahuna) went it has been nearly flawless for over 4 stages races in the past couple months.  The SRAM XX1 is great for flawless shifting, the Maxxis Ikon tires are bombproof and the Kona frame is the perfect balance of light weight and toughness for these epic races!  Also a huge thanks to Stans No Tubes, Truvative components, Rock Shox, WTB, GIRO and Clif bar for supplying all the gear for this big trip!

 

A controversy arrised after the race when female race leader Imogen was notified here prize money was going to be cut in half.  This was unfortunate timing for this news as the UCI should have told Imogen at the start the prize money was going to be reduced.  She still received the overall winning prize of $900, but they wanted to cut down here stage winning money since she didn’t have to race anyone for it being the only Elite girl in the race.  In the end she would still be paid close to $1800, the 5th most out of anyone in the race which seemed fair.

 

If it was left the way it was she was going to make nearly $3500, way more then Greg Saw received ($2300) for winning the overall title.  This I don’t think would’ve been fair for Greg who had to battle 95 other guys for the title.  I understand why Imogen was upset though as the prize money should be settled before the race starts and shouldn’t change later on.  Hopefully things like this can be avoided in the future as it would be great to see more Girls in races like this as there is no reason they shouldn’t be here.  They add a lot to these races and it’s awesome to see them getting faster and faster every year and giving the guys a run for there money. With the small fields they would be guaranteed to win some descent prize money for there efforts as well.

 

The days after the race were spent up in Mossman with Steve Rankine and a few friends from the Croc.  We would spend the days up in the Daintree rainforest at the Mossman Gorge making like a bunch of seals, swimming in the refreshing Mossman river followed with crawling up on large boulders to sun bathe.  Toss in a few ciders and it made for a good life.  Everything was top notch until Kathi and I went for a 7 hour hike up to Devils Thumb peak.  It was a really cool hike through the Jungle to a huge rock outcropping sitting 1200 Meters above the valley floor.  We made it back to the bottom and were joined by Steve for a dip in a swimming hole before we were all headed to Cairns to celebrate Halloween.

It was going to be a real treat, but I was tricked on this Halloween as I slipped on a rock leaving the swimming hole and flung my arms back for balance, throwing out my weak shoulder.  Unable to get it back relocated into its socket it was a long 1 km hike out to the highway and by the time we hit the Hospital the shoulder had been dangling for over an hour.  The Doctor gave me some laughing gas and told me to suck on it really hard as he tried to twist my arm back into place.  It was an odd experience as I laughed and cried at the same time.  Still unable to get the shoulder back into place they had to knock me out for 30 seconds to relax all the muscles and finally get the arm back into place.  All in all it took 20 minutes, cost $2500 and after a couple hours of looking out for side effects from the drugs I was finally released.  After all the racing in the past year it is ridiculous the only two times I’ve dislocated my shoulder is via  canoeing, and walking.   It seems like you might as well take all the risks in the world and live your life to the fullest as it is usually during the down times that crazy things happen.

Off to chew on some more ibuprofren as I wait and to see if the shoulder is good for another race or if its time to call it a season.

 

PS  Big Thanks to Sayako Ikeda for all the feedzone support during the race.    Also a big thanks to Steven Rankine and his Dad for opening there house in Mossman for a week of post race recovery!

MTB Himalaya-Bali and a Crocodile

The 8 day MTB Himalaya in Northern India was the 3rd of 3 stage races scheduled for the month of September.  The first two in Mongolia and East Timor had gone really well but it was unsure how long the body would be able to keep firing at full steam.  Arriving into New Delhi to start the Indian adventure was a 100% gong show.  After 2 weeks here it is pretty clear that gong shows likely originated in India.  Right after leaving the airport for a 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel, we came to a parking lot in the middle of the freeway, the taxi driver shut off the car and told me to get comfy as some government VIP’s were moving around the city. I have always disagreed with VIP status as it’s a joke some people think they are more important then others. Anyways we sat in the +35 degree muggy heat for 1.5 hours before continuing our epic 12 km journey to the hotel.

 

The next two days were spent at a spiffy press conference, a rad Indian style welcome party and riding around the city.  Delhi is dead flat so it makes for some fast riding as it is easy to draft between vehicles although the streets are chaos, full of everything imaginable and the noise is unreal with everyone honking every 5 seconds.   I made it through some shanty towns which were a shock to the system seeing people taking number 2’s in the middle of the street, loads of street kids begging and the constant smell of sewage e.   At one stop light a little 4-5 year old girl walked up to the front of my bike, jumped on the front wheel and hugged it, looking up smiling.  When the light changed she just stayed there as traffic was now honking and buzzing bye.  I had no idea how to handle this situation so just smiled back at her and asked her to get off.  She just smiled more and hugged my wheel tighter.  It was a standoff which I was unprepared for.  Finally her Mom called her back to the curb, she hopped off my wheel with a friendly smile and continued on her way.

The crazy thing about Delhi is that around the next turn, the shanty towns would often dissapear and fenced off mansions and clean streets would come into view making it feel like a well off North American neighbourhood.

Getting out of the noise and chaos of Delhi was a blessing as we went on a 300 km,  12 hour bus trip up into the foothills of the Himalayas, too a mountain top city called Shimla.  The last 5 hours of the bus trip winding around mountain roads nearly killed all us white boys off via motion sickness and noise as the bus driver weaved and honked continously for the entire journey.   Shimla is the capital city of the Himachel state and the tourist gateway to Northern Indias grand mountains.  The city is perched  at 2200 meters and is full of spectacular views and endless twisty little roads reaching all around the mountain slopes.  As cool as it is, it was a relief to finally leave the concrete jungle and start the 10th edition of the MTB Himalaya as 80 of us riders took off on an unforgettable week through the Himalayan foothills.

The courses were hard, typically 80-90km a day with 2000-2800 meters of climbing.  The climbs were long but generally not too steep while the descents were nerve racking as we would be flying around blind corners dodging trucks, people, and livestock, none of which expected us to be coming.  For this reason the lead group of us, with good friends Manual and Anderl from Austria/Germany, would race full gas up the climbs and about 95% speed down the descents to keep ourselves out of trouble.  The riding itself was entertaining and kept us engaged every km of the way.  The roads were pretty rough and would snake around the mountainsides, over ridge tops and down some amazing canyons.  It was some of the funnest bike racing I have ever done as we were getting to see the heart of the lives of the cool Indian culture that lived up there.  Compared to the flatlands of India, the population is considered small up in the mountains but there were still people and houses every where.  Watching the locals go through the routines of there daily lives was pretty cool pastime while racing each day.

Come the evenings we would arrive at nice campsites in some pretty unique places.  The workers at MTB Himalaya worked really hard to have the camps set up and loads of glorious Indian food ready for our consumption.   The cold bucket showers and makeshift outhouses were a bit rustic for some of the high maintenance riders but in the big picture they worked just fine and added to the overall experience of racing through such a cool part of the world.   There was also the option of warm showers as the Indians would boil huge pots of water everyday for this reason.  I sat around 45 minutes with 5 guys from the Indian Army waiting for the water one day.  Once the lid came off the boiling pot the Indians went at it, each with 2 bowls in the hands enabling them to double fist the warm water and fill up there shower buckets.  Being the amateur at this, I only had one bowl and when the dust settled the Indians had filled there buckets and I had mine about 1/3 full.  They laughed at the white boy as I had been  dominated at this game and had to wait another 45 minutes for the next bucket of water to boil.  Live and learn.

After stage 3 of the race I was looking for some extra saddle time to train for the Munga down in South Africa so opted to go on a ride up a little side valley.  It was glorious as the rough road followed a small stream up a tight gorge, passing by temples, prayer sites and the shacks of the hardcore mountain folk.  The people acted odd though and just stared as I road by.  I would say hello and smile, some of the guys would acknowledge me, but all the woman would act like zombies and as though I didn’t even exist.  It was crazy, and a little creepy but it must be part of there culture to not acknowledge white guys.

 

About 30 minutes up the road I came upon a small village and could see 5 guys come out on the road about 200 m ahead.  I was ready to turn around but was intrigued to find out what these guys wanted.  When I arrived to them, one of them grabbed my handlebars and asked, “What is your mission?”  Huh, um, my mission.?  My mission is to ride my bike up this valley.  “No, sir, what is your mission!?”  Not sure dude, just finished a race and looking for some extra training time. “Where are you from?”,  Canada!. “Well Canada isn’t this way, now go back.”  Hmm, no sir I believe I want to keep going up this way. ”  What is your mission?”  I was really confused by this mission question and tried to explain that I was training for this 1000 km race down in South Africa, but they didn’t seem to understand.    Eventually I started smiling and chuckling, which got one of them laughing and eased the tension.  After some negotiations I was allowed to continue 10 minutes further up the road.  I was starting to crack from a long day so this worked out fine.  I’m really not sure what the locals were protecting up there but it was likely some sort of stoner weed based on the way they were treating there visitor.   On the way back down the 5 road guards were all waving and smiling, a huge contrast from just a few minutes earlier!

The food in camp was glorious for a group of hungry bike racers with endless rice, dal, lentils, chicken, indian curries, popcorn and weird rice deserts.  The moms that taught these Indians how to cook really did a good job as we never went to bed hungry.  The cow’s walking around the area also got a good fill as they would wander into camp and rummage through the garbages for leftovers and paper plates.  Being a protected species, the cows walk around like they own the place and often cause real disturbances in camp, walking through power cables and stumbling around the tents.  This would provide the camp entertainment in the afternoons as we would sit back and watch the camp staff run trying to keep the cows at bay.

By the end of the 8 day journey through the mountains we all had our memory banks full of moments both on and off the bikes as every step of the journey was action packed.  India truly is an incredible country like there tourism slogan states.  After the race I lucked out and was given a ride back to Delhi with Viju, one of the local racers who had his own car.  This cut the 12 hour journey down to 7 hours which was a gift and gave me shotgun to firsthand experience driving in India.  It is hands down better than any circus I have been too.  We stopped at an Indian rest stop along the and ate food set out for 4 kings, packing on any weight we may have lost during the race week.

Back in Delhi was another eventful couple of days as Rajesh (the man from Indian Times who set up my Indian Visa) had lined up a tour with his buddy Pochi and a group ride to Delhis main mountain bike area.  The mountain biking trails in Delhi were pretty neat as we went from the gongshow of the city straight into a nature reserve full of foxes and deer, something you would never expect being so close to such a busy city.  The dirt tracks we road on were just like the mining  trails in the Australian outback at the Croc trophy.  The only problem were the thorns which were everywhere.  The local riders claim there tubeless tires each have 20-30 thorns in them, and I believe them now after puncturing my back tubed tire and placing two thorns in my front tire in just a 1 hr ride.  It would get expensive riding here~!

This trip through India was we capped off with a walk through Old Delhi with fellow Canuck Gerry McCuaig.    Old Delhi is the center of all the worlds gongshows and is a real experience to see.  Trying to buy a metro train ticket to get back to my hotel was ridiculous as lining up isn’t an option as the locals bud in line and do whatever they can to get to the ticket window ahead of you.  It was getting late so I had to toss a good elbow into one guy to finally get my ticket and get on my way to the airport. Getting on the plane that night to take off to Bali was like getting home from a rock concert as all the senses were firing at full tilt and then there was silence…

 

Arriving in Bali to see good buddy Dave Mcnaught was awesome after being away from Canada for 6 weeks.  Dave was our Kona Team mechanic for years and we have a great history on trips from these days.  This trip was a little different as it was just a couple buddies meeting up in Bali to have a good time.  We had no plan, just a couple bikes and millions of Indonesian dollars to spend.  The first couple nights we went to PadangBai as it had a cool name, then we went up to the beach side village of Amed.  Jack funk had recommended this place to us and we owe him a couple ciders for this as it is paradise.  The next 7 days was spent snorkelling, riding on some nice trails and golf cart like roads, eating a wide selection of fresh fruits, veggies and fish from the ocean and the occasional Arak spirit.  It was the holidays of holidays, mixed in with a bit of training to make sure Dave could snag some KOMS back in Canada when he returned and I could remember how to ride my bike for the upcoming Crocodile Trophy.  Dave also came over with a bunch of fresh bike parts to freshen up the race rig (Kona King Kahuna), and a bag full of snacks to keep the body firing at the upcoming races.  Thanks buddy for the wicked trip and for the reinforcements for the Croc!

After a night at Balis party central in Kuta beach, there was time for one more ocean swim and then Dave took off to Canada and I hopped a flight to Australia.  Landing in Darwin I had 40 minutes to make the next flight to Cairns, only problem was customs hauled me over to check through my bike for dirt and bags for drugs.  The bike was spotless so this went smooth but explaining all the bags of random powders and seeds was a process.  His eyes started to glow when he saw the small zip lock bag full of white l-glutamine powder, but  this was eventually ok’d.  With 7 minutes left to catch my flight, the officer had an assistant take a swab to test for drugs and then told me I could repack my bags and could leave as soon as the swab test came back.  When the results came back they had a small meeting to discuss something as apparently traces of MDA was found.  This was foreign language to me but was soon informed it is a type of Meth.  Holy f***, a couple four leaf clovers must have been stuck on my shoes for this one as the officers believed my innocence!.   I have no idea where these traces of MDA came from but that backpack is getting hucked in the garbage bin.   Getting out into the main Darwin airport lobby there was just enough time to hear them closing the gate for my flight to Cairns,  getting to the check in desk 1 minute later, I gave them my best smile ever and they opened the gate and off to Cairns it was!

Getting into the backpackers hostel at 12:30 am I layed down on the lawn for 30 minutes to get rid of some serious sickness.  After a iffy nights sleep in a tent it was a day of grocery shopping and then hunkering down back at the hostel to eat and sleep the day away.  After a glorious sleep in a real bed the systems came back online,  just in time to start the 9 stage Crocodile Trophy starting up on saturday.  This is one of my favourite race out there and this year the field is stacked which is going to make it one interesting trip through the outback!

 

Daily Results from the Crocodile Trophy can be found here.. http://www.crocodile-trophy.com/index.php?id=142

 

Over and Out!

Tour de Timor

Timor Leste is a small country situated on the eastern end of the Indonesian chain of islands, the western half of the island is Indonesian while the eastern half is a young 12 year old country called Timor Leste.  It is a country which has been battered around for years, first under Portugues rule, then invaded by Japan during the 2nd World War and most recently invaded by Indonesia in 1975 which brought on 24 years of bloodshed and hardships.  After years of turmoil, flattened infrastructure, massacres and referendums the country of East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002.  Since then the small country of just over 1 million individuals have been busy as they started nearly from scratch to build up there nation.   There is a lot of pride in the people as they are full of hope and aspirations to make there country something special.  It is also a long road ahead for this 96% catholic country as they are still working on basics such as nutrition and are ranked as the hungriest nation in Asia, and 4th hungriest in the World.

 

This year the 6th annual Tour de Timor took place with around 100 riders and 5 stages. We raced through some stellar natural scenery, villages of friendly people and through a very much developing part of the World which still scrapes by to find the basics for life.  Having been to many parts of the globe racing a bike it isn’t often I’m shocked as much as I was during this event.  The first day after 3 hours of racing through the countryside I came to the finish line in Hatolia, a tiny mountainside village lined with locals screaming as I came across the finish line as the first racer.   The crowd support is something I have never witnessed before, with throngs of locals yelling from the side of the road throughout the whole stage.   It’s probably the closest mountain bike stage racing will ever get to Tour de France like crowds.  Often there would be 20-100 individuals just starring as I road by, as soon as I said Bon dias or acknowledged them they would go crazy.  They probably thought we were some sort of crazy aliens with our unfashionable cycling kits and weird looking bikes with enormous 29 inch wheels racing by.  Right after coming across the finish line I leaned my bike against a post, only to have a local ride away with it and soon after was surrounded by locals and race cameraman asking about the race.  Exhausted and overwhelmed I looked for an escape but was in the middle of a very dusty rundown village with no where to go.  It was one of those moments where I thought “what the hell have I gotten myself into this time.”   The rest of the afternoon was a weird one as I watched little kids and dogs get chased away from the lunch table, a cow get slaughtered for dinner, and after a walk around the village it became very apparent the only goods available in town were sketchy Indonesian snacks loaded with either sugar or MSG.  Mid afternoon I headed over to get a massage which had been strategically scheduled to break up the day.  Laying down on a mat beside three other guys we were given a very awkward massage as the Timorese girls grabbed at our legs with one hand and texted in the other.  It was a forgettable 20 minutes, then it was back off to the toilet/shower room for a 2nd bucket shower to get the weird oil off my back and legs before it turned into something nasty.  Before dinner we had a very interesting Timorese style race briefing then it was off to the dinner tables to battle for food.

Dinners for the week were pretty rad as the organisers had the locals do all the cooking.  Every night it was fresh beef or buffalo, bok choy, white rice, potatoes and maybe some carrots.  Basic, healthy and pretty good fuel for a stage race.  As plates of food would come out,a hundred of us racers and another hundred or so Timorese and Australian work staff would hover over it like a bunch of vultures with dogs running around picking up scraps.  It was impressive the food never ran out as we were demolishing it, apparently the locals are use to cooking for large gatherings of hungry individuals.

That night racers made deals with the locals to rent rooms in there basic concrete houses to lay sleeping pads in.  I set up my tent away from the chaos underneath a huge bamboo tree alongside a little creek in what I thought was an abandoned yard.  Right after the tent went up a large pig came running at me out of nowhere frantically oinking.  I guesse I had pitched camp in his pen.  After a tense standoff the pig and I came to an agreement which turned out to be a rad little campsite for the night.

Stage 2 started with a 8 km downhill, 40 km flat section through some agriculture land and then onto a great 45 km finishing loop on some technical jeep road through some very rustic villages. This was a tour of Timor’s heartland and made for some great riding.  There were some solid climbs in there and the heat was reaching the mid to high 30’s which was good for the farmer tan lines.  According to Cape Epic winner Catherine Williamson, this sort of riding is very similar to the Cape Epic down in South Africa.   Coming across the finish line into the historic town of Balibo was something special with hundreds if not thousands of fans lining the course, screaming and giving high fives.  Hollywood time!  This afternoon was great as the organisers drove us 13 km down to the Indonesian border along the Ocean.  After years of conflict it was great to be part of some Indonesian-East Timor good times as we shared ice creams and shot some pictures with the Indonesian border patrol before heading back up to Balibo for the night.  Back in camp the whole town was out for a local soccer game taking place in the middle of camp.  These kids had unreal foot skills as they raced around the rough soccer field highlighting this country is on the full upswing.

Stage 3 started out with an easy 30 km paved section of flat and dh roads before we hit a very hilly 27 km route to the finish.  The climbing was euro like with some tight switchbacks meandering through stunning landscapes with big rock outcrops and large rigid mountains looming behind us.  Most days I was lucky to have Nelson, the lead moto blazing the trail, chasing dogs and alarming the locals a race was coming through in a few minutes.  On this day it was status quo until Nelson stopped to chase an unruly dog away, this leaving me blazing ahead, only to have a pack of 4 viscous pot hounds take chase.  Trying to sprint uphill was a losing cause.  Usually a guy can chase away these pesky dogs when they come in ones or twos by simply squirting water or raising an arm there way.  With 4 of them coming they had a pack mentality and I was screwed, jumping off the bike and using it as a shield from the the buggers for 20-30 seconds before Nelson came in for the rescue on his motorbike.  After this things chilled out and it was a fun ride down a rough road lining a ridge top before climbing up to the small mountain village of Hauba.  Perched on the side of a mountain the climate was fresh and the views unreal.  As riders came across the finish line they would walk up to the local houses and make deals to rent out some floor space for accommodation.  The veterans of the race scooped up all the good home stays while rookies like Catherine and myself would usually miss the boat.  This worked out good as pitching our tents away from the chaos usually worked good.  Sleep was always an issue though as places like Timor really like there noise.  Whether it was a local party, barking dogs, crying babies or roosters, there wasn’t more then a couple hours of quite time on any given night.

The local woman worked very hard to keep us all fed and always did a fine job with lots of leftovers usually around.  The dinners weren’t flavour sensations but the food was filling and always locally made outdoors over campfires.   One of the Australian medical team members was keeping track of the cleanliness of the kitchens in every town but was a little mystified when he found a bulls penis hanging from a tree amongst the outdoor kitchen on day 3.   Not sure if these kitchens would pass any international standards, but  not a single rider got sick from the food over the course of the tour.  Very impressive in my books!.

 

Stage 4 was spectacular as we road some winding roads up and down mountains, below waterfalls, through coffee plantations and along ridges.  The last hour was nearly all downhill as we ended up in a pretty major town called Gleno.  This was a hub for the surrounding district and was full of chaos.  The locals were always great, coming out to greet us and hanging around trying to figure out just what we were up, with many of them more then eager to try and practice there English with us.   A local band came down for the night to provide some entertainment, while the locals showed off there unique dancing styles.  Like most nights all the local houses and buildings filled up with racers looking for some shelter.  Pitching my tent behind the government building and away from the noise of the local band I figured I had things sorted for a good sleep.  This ended up being a disaster with Ac machines leaking water into my tent, local kids finding me, and a confused rooster in a local yard going off all night.  In the good picture, racing this week on a real lack of sleep was good training for the 1000km Munga race coming up in December down in Africa.

 

Stage 5 was rad as we road up a ridge spine for the first 15 km before dropping down a long dusty descent into a river bed which would take us to Dili.  The riverbed was a full gongshow as the organisers let us riders go wherever we wanted, dodging between construction workers, deep waterholes and endless route options.  At one point I came ripping around a corner leading 4 racers only to come upon a backhoe ready to dump a SUV  sized boulder onto the road.  It would have squashed us but luckily the operator saw us in time and carefully balance the rock on edge allowing us to slip by in one piece.  Once into Dili the chaos continued as we sprinted down one of the main streets to cap off what was a truly unforgettable journey.  After some post race high fives and pictures it was off to a car wash to get a 1$ bike hose down and get some rest before the evening awards banquet.  Benjamin Dingle, one of the Aussie racers who was living in Dili working as a Nurse offered to house me for 3 days after the race.   This was unreal as he lived in an open air designer style beach house 5 km out of town on a hill overlooking the ocean.   He gave me the loft, full of fresh air, the sound of the crashing ocean below and even a maid to do all the post race laundry and cleaning.  This was a real jackpot.

The post race days were great as we explored the local seaside cycling routes, ate cheap food on the beach and enjoyed the rustic freedom which only a developing country like East Timor can offer.    It was hard to leave this country yesterday, chilling with Ben was a great time, the country is still wild and just begging to be explored and the people are really welcoming.  Tour de Timor is a great adventurous race doing a great job at promoting the beauty and peace of this country.  It would be great to return next year to see more of what this wild land has to offer. Developments are popping up all over the country, which will be good for the people, but will slowly take away the special charm which only a few off the beaten track countries can still offer.  Some say East Timor is like Bali, but 30 years behind.  I’ve never been to Bali but I would have a tough time seeing it top the wild freedom of this place.

For Next year the Tour de Timor has already been announced for Sept 13-17th, taking part on a 100% new route.  As far now it is off to Singapore for a little Formula 1 action, and some rest before heading off to India for the 8 day MTB Himalaya bike challenge.  Over and Out!