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!

 

Mongolia Round 4- Onwards to East Timor

Every year the Mongolia Bike Challenge continues to grow and expand into one of the Worlds longest and hardest mountain bike stage races.  This was my fourth trip over here and was by far the best organized and most racey event of them all.  In the first couple editions the MBC took place down in the Gobi desert and around the the Khangai Mountains.  The scenery and adventures of these editions was unreal, but the race was at the mercy of mother nature with floods, dust storms, snow and other unrully weather, often making it more of a survival challenge then a bike race.  Last year the organizers changed the route to the central eastern part of the country, through some great national parks and the enormous steppe lands.   Here the weather is a more stable, the logistics easier with tourist camps surrounding the area and the scenery still spectacular golden grasslands, spectacular rock outcroppings and a wide open feeling of freedom that only a few places in the world can offer.  Again last year some troubles were run into with flooding rivers and cold weather but changes were made and for the 5th edition the organization had a well layed out plan with backup plans in case of sever weather.

From day one things rolled pretty smoothly and the 75 racers of the 5th edition of the MBC were treated to 900 km of great racing through one of the Worlds great nomadic landscapes with the Mongolian culture evident and inspiring around every corner.   Crystal clear rivers, roaming camels, rolling grassy hills, zippy antelope, countless herds of sheep & goats, wild stampeding horses, snakes,  local Mongols living there Nomadic lives, every day was a slow moving national geographic movie which kept us entertained every step of the way.

Having won the last 2 editions, there was a pull to come back and try to complete the hat trick.   Early on in stage one it became blatantly clear that this was going to be a real battle as European road pro Luis Pasamontes (Spain),  a young Italian XC star  Nicholas Pettinà and Czech pro Jiri Krivanek were all in fine form and inspired to make my life hard.  Pettina and I would split day 1 with each of us gettting one of the KOM bonuses (King of the Mountain), and then he would launch an attack with 20 km to go and hold on for a 6 second lead over myself, with Passamontes using his diesel engine to come in right behind.  Oh boy this was going to be a tough week!

Day two was an emotional roller coaster as I flatted 30 km into the 120 km stage, trying to drift away from Pettina and Passamontes they looked back to see my mechanical difficulties and both launched out of the saddle to leave me in the dust.  My first flat fix didn´t work so I pulled out a tube popped it in and was soon back into the race in about 10th position,  4 minutes behind the leading duo.  I was in trouble but dug deep and managed to pull back into 3rd position and was closing in on the leading euros with the gap just over a minute as we headed into the big climb of the day.  Perfect I though, I could hopefully catch them before the KOM and then have another good fight to the finish.  The tables turned as they blew a course marking and lost 3-4 minutes, I was lucky enough to have my head up at the lightly marked intersection and spotted a sign further up the course which kept me on track.  I yelled at the lost euros but they couldn´t here nothing, luckily race referee Danielle was right there and was able to get the other guys back on track approximately 3 minutes behind me.  Now in the lead I was inspired  with the huge opportunity to jump into the Pink leaders jersey and put in some serious damage to the europeans.  Using every ounce of energy in the last 60 km through countless river crossings and beautiful alpine meadows I managed to expand the 3 minute lead to 13 minutes by the finish line.   My work was in the bag, now it was up to the Euros to do there work in the coming 5 stages.

Stage 3 the tables turned again as one by one things went sideways, eventually leaving myself alone in 3rd chasing the two leading euros with over 60 km of racing to go.  The day had started off with Pettina attacking through some muddy sections and gaining 1.5 minutes on the peloton.  With Passamontes and my belgium powerhouse teammate Christof Marien still with me I was content to let Pettina take the lead and use up his energy.  At one point Christof brought us to within 20 seconds of Pettina but I asked him to ease the pace to let Pettina burn through a few more matches before we caught him.    Soon after Christof would flat, Passamontes would attack through the feedzone, while Krivanek and myself stopped for drinks.   Pettina saw Passamontes chasing behind, waited for him, and soon the two euros were off on another mission together and my game plan had backfired.

Jiri Krivanek and I had raced at the Crocodile Trophy the year before, with him finishing 3rd overall.  We worked well together for close to 2 hrs with him burrying himself to help me in the chase, but unfortunately he tired out and soon I was on my own.   This wasn’t an ideal situation.  Digging deep I got within 45 seconds of the duo at the last feed station and opted to blow by it in a last effort to catch the two.  Pettina saw me closing and dropped Passamontes, who I would soon catch but he was too tired to do much work and pretty soon I was alone in 2nd chasing down the motivated Italian.  Having blown the last feed station I was running on empty bottles for the last hour in what had been a really hot and dusty 135 km stage.  Pettinas gap would increase to 2.5 minutes by the finish as I fought dehydration and was on the verge of a serious metldown but luckily the finishline came just before this set in and the damage was limited on the day.   The camp this night was at 6000 ft high up on a rolling hill overlooking the vast grassy steppe lands below.  The sky was unreal that night with shooting stars, a 3/4 moon and one heck of a great feast as the MBC had hired a Mexican restaurant from UB to do the catering.

Stage 4 started on a long descent which Pettina launched an attack while I got stuck behind crashing riders in the dusty conditions.  Once out of the dust and into the wide open steppe lands, Pettina already had a minute lead.  Chasing hard I got close and then the Mongolian boys pulled up beside me and yelled “Cory, get on our wheels!!”.   These guys put in a huge effort, pulling me back up to the leaders, before they detonated and settled in for a long day afterwards.  Thanks my friends!

Soon after one of the riders in the lead pack came over to tell me something, reaching out with his arm but then his bike hit a bump and he crashed straight into me sending both of us to the ground.  Pettina saw this and immediatly took off on another attack taking advantage of the situation.  This wasn’t a very sportsmanlike move and got me fired up as you typically don’t take advantage of a fallen rider.   After a long chase back up to the group I gave Pettina some words and the the race was one.  Pettina and Passamontes were in alliance this day and took turns attacking, eventually I had to let Passamontes go and focus Pettina as he was 10 min back in gc while Passamontes was 17 back.  This was another weird situation as Pettina just sat on my wheel for 2 hours while I tried to keep a high tempo so his Spanidh friend wouldn’t get to far ahead.  This lasted to the KOM where I dropped him, caught up to Passamontes, and was soon rejoined by Pettina.  We would ride the rest of the day together through some beautiful Mongolian valleys and finally onto the finishing straight after 170 km of hard racing.   The finish sprint was a gongshow as we sprinted hard across a rocky field, dodging through a herd of a 100 plus sheep and goats.  I picked the right lines between the animals and took a hard earned W.  This evening was spent soaking in the crystal clear waters of a nearby river and stargazing under the mammoth Mongolia skies.  Again dinner was stellar as a local grill called the Rosewood did the catering, with large salads, soup, pastas and a solid meat feeding.

Stage 5 was another long 170 km stage, the Mongolians pulled the field for the first 70 km, Passamontes crashed and broke his bike, we road through some amazing golden grasslands with antelope bounding about and enormous eagles soaring above.  It was a rad day with Pettina and myself again sprinting it out with him taking the W.  This night there was a sense of relief around camp as we were set up at in a nice Ger tourist camp for the next two nights alongside a nature reserve and another refreshing Mongolian river.  Somewhere along the lines this day something got into my gastric system and I spent the night running to the toilet.   After another 5 toilet runs in the 1.5 hrs before the race start I set out as the last rider in a 47 km TT.  The course was great as we raced up and down some good climbs through a National park.   I packed toilet paper but luckily didn’t need to use it.  It was a suffery day though and Pettina clawed back over 5 minutes in the GC by taking the win.

Waking up for the final stage I was nervous as heck, the diahrea had passed but all systems were not ready to go for the final stage.  Right off the gun Pettina attacked up the initial climb in his attempt to bring down the 5 minute gap to my pink jersey and take the overall race win in the last 87 km stage.   I managed to weather this first storm and then my teammate Christof Marien came to the front and set the tempo into a solid headwind for the first 50 km of the stage.  He was like the mother ship with myself being a little pod sitting behind him out of the wind, counting the kms down.  Pettina was also sitting in, both knowing the real race was going to start at the first KOM.  At km 50 we sprinted for the KOM, it was a photo finish with him taking the 30 sec time bonus. Blowing by the feedzone he put in attack after attack and eventually I had to let him go as his surges were not doing my hurting system any good.  Settling into a diesel pace for the rest of the day I kept a close watch on Pettina, at one point he had a 2 minute lead, but I dug a little deeper and brought this back down to around 1:15 for the rest of the stage.   With 4 km to go I could smell overall victory and eased up on the last couple descents to play  it safe and make sure I came across the finish line in one piece.   I have never had so much relief at the end of a race as I did this day, finishing 2 minutes down, but still holding onto the gc lead by 3 minutes to take my 3rd consecutive MBC title.  If I was a betting man when I woke up this morning I don’t think I would’ve bet on myself as I was a bit of a mess health wise.  Thanks to Christof Marien, a strong head wind and a suitable course things worked out and I will savour this victory for a while. Also a big thanks to my Kona King Kahuna 29′re hardtail for putting up with all the abuse and getting me across the finishline in one piece for a third straight year!

Camped at a 13th century Ger camp was athe perfect way to end a steller week.  We lived like Ghengis Khaan and his clan for the night, eating plates of meat off wooden platters, running around the rocky hills behind camp, bs’ing under a full moon by a large bonfire and eventually retiring into old school yurts for a long nights rest.  After 4 MBC’s it seems like the organizers have really hit there stride and have a solid event to build off of in the years to come.

In a world that keeps on developing and spinning faster and faster, it becomes more and more special to escape to a land like Mongolia which seems stuck in time out on its grassy nomadic steppe lands.

After a few chill days in Ullanbaatar it was back on a jet plane to a far off land called East Timor.  This is a country which has gone through a very rough history declaring its independence from Portugal in 1975 only to be invaded by Indonesia forces.  For years the country was in the midst of battles, referendums, destruction of there country’s infrastructure, and massacres.  In 1999 the country was in a crisis as they pushed for independence in a referendum from Indonesia’s invasions. Activists in Portugal, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere pressured their governments to take action. Eventually East Timor became formally independent on 20 May 2002 and a member of the UN on 27 September 2002.

Now is a time of peace, hope and dreams in this small country and a few of us foreigners were lucky enough to be invited to take part in a 5 day bike race called the Tour de Timor to help in promoting the country to the world as safe place to come and visit.  We are honored to be here and have been astounded by the welcome and the enthusiasm of the locals to rebuild there country and show it off to us.   Check out the race website for stories and more info!     http://www.tourdetimorlorosae.com/

Thanks Danielle for the rad last photo.

Mongolia Bike Challenge

One of my favourite and one of the worlds most adventurous bike races starts tommorow as the 5th edition of the Mongolia bike Challenge kicks off across the vast unspoiled steppes of the land of Ghengis Khaan.

The full race story, pictures and results can be followed along at www.mongolianbikechallenge.com

Off to try and finish of the hat trick!