The Tour De Timor is an initiative of the President of East Timor, (Timor – Leste), Jose Ramus Harota. The goal is to drive publicity and tourism to this, the worlds’ newest, country.
Promoted as the world’s toughest MTB race.. it’s certainly is no walk in the park. But is it the world’s toughest? Well, I can’t comment as I haven’t done other races like the Croc or Leadville. I can tell you, it’s definitely a tough race– I can certainly vouch for that.
The race is trying to appeal to two types of MTB riders, firstly people who are interested in trying to complete a distance based challenge. 607kms of Mountain bike riding in 6 days along with the added difficulties of life camping in remote areas and without most of life’s little luxuries – things like electricity, running water or a working toilet. The other group are the usual group of fanatical mountain bike racers who turn up for major races. People who go fast and want to test themselves amongst some of our regions best riders. People like Adrian Jackson, the Van der Ploegs, Luke Fetch, Ben Mather, Peta Mullens, Kat O’Shea, Naomi Hansen, Mel Jackson and plenty more, this year the legend Tinker Juerez was as along to see if he could take home some of the $100,450 prize money on offer. Whilst certainly not competitive with these people I include myself in this ‘racer type’ of the two groups.
The race covers a large area of Timor- Leste in 6 long stages, plus a 7th display race, a short track event on the afternoon on day 4 for the top 30 riders. The main type of road covered during the main race is worn out fire road. There are sections of good bitumen near the major towns, where we start and finish each day, but predominately it’s rough dirt roads. The entire country is forged by volcanic lava build up so there is little vegetation on the main with quite a rocky surface. If I had to describe the feel of the race it’s like a 6 day FLANDERS. Our hands and feet are constantly being madly vibrated along by the roughness of the crazy road surface. These roads are punctuated by sections of good bitumen or flat dirt roads, all surfaces come complete with massive pot holes.
There are two other major difficulites to overcome on the Tour de Timor. Firstly the heat – most days we were riding by 0800 until around noon and temperatures were anywhere from 36 – 42.5 degrees (according to my GARMIN). The last – it’s a climbers race. Every stage has various amounts of climbing. Most days we would climb for extended periods of time upto 2000 meters per day. The shortest stage is 70kms and the longest a 146km road ride, although on good bitumen roads.
The racing is top quality racing. You get a real ‘pro racer feel’ right from the beginning with helicopters flying alongside the peloton and media motorbikes with video cameras and digital still cameras following the first couple of bunches on the road. All filming us as we smashed ourselves in the heat or climbed up a mountain pass. The ‘bunches’ were reasonably well behaved along the way and on the good road sections you could use your roadie skills to hide in the bunch and get some ‘free’ kilometres. There are multiple feed zones each day handing out fresh bottled water along with occasionally soft drinks and electrolyte drinks. Stop and chat to the feeders or snatch them as you race past – it’s your choice.
The people of Timor-Leste really embrace the race. Riding around town in the days before the race all the locals are eyeballing us racers and everyone is very aware of the race. The main street has banners for the race and buildings in major areas are painted in the race logo. Billboards around Dili even have last years winners faces on them as well as this years major local (Timorese) hopefuls. MTB as the primo sport in the city.. nice one by me..!
There are literally thousands of people lining every major village road or start / finish section yelling or cheering you on. If their English is good enough they’d call out your race number. ‘Go 77, yeah 77…’ On one occasion we were climbing up through a village with villages lining the streets two and three deep and as we passed through a crevasse the locals were throwing rose petals (or simular) over us. On another section we raced through a clearing with a small school in it as we rounded the corner all the school children came running the 200m from the school to the road side screaming and waving in, what I interpreted to be, encouragement to us. On yet another section of road through a larger village the road was that full of people all trying to get a view of us racers that the road was closed by the large amount of people there.. much like you see on a grand tour mountain top stage. I’m certainly not used to this type of riding on a weekend or even my local crit – I mean we get a few people watching out us out at Heffron Park, but nothing like this.
The logistics of the race were difficult – 420 odd riders and apparently the same numbers of support staff – all needing toilet facilities, drinking water, food and medical attention. Whilst the medical component was absolutely top notch (thanks to Charles Sturt Uni for the Physio and Darwin Critical care for the medical systems) the other components were, at times, left a little lacking. Waiting for our tent and sleeping mats on one stage until 9pm after finishing the stage at 12:30 was a difficult day and queuing for food for up to 3 hours a day was also a tough ask (2 hours at night and 1.5 in the morning for breakfast). However I’m sure as the race grows in years and the organisers get more experience, these things will be smoothed out. After all this is only the third year that they have run the race.
In the end Luke Fetch won the opens men event and Peta Mullens won the open women’s event. Both took home $10,000 each. Although, considering the amount of assistance each rider required from their team to get in the winning position, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t sharing this money with their team mates.
Personally, I’ve never raced this hard for this long and across this many days. A good result for me, despite riding 107kms in the small ring on day two, due to snapping a front shifting cable early in the day. I had a great race and was happy with a placing in the early 20’s on most stages. Would I do it again..? It’s hard to say this closer the finish of the event. Would I recommend it to keen MTB racers? – You bet I would. You just have to do this race, ..at least once even if it is just for the Pro racer experience.
The 2011 Tour de Timor was supported by Timor Telecom, Conoco-Phillips and Air North.
6 stages – 607kms
7000m of climbing
18 Countries were represented including Cycling teams from Malaysia and Indonesia.
$US100,450 prise money.
Entry fee $US600
2011 Open Men
1st – Luke Fetch
2nd – Paul Van der Ploeg
3rd – Adrian Jackson
2011 Open Women
1st – Peta Mullens
2nd – Kat O’Shea
3rd – Naomi Hansen
Luke Fetch and Paul Van der Ploeg, Stage 2 (Photo: Russel Baker)
Peta Mullens (Photo: Russel Baker)
The crowd in the mountains (Photo: Russel Baker)