Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day 5 - Final Day - Maubisse to Dili

DAY 5: Maubisse – Dili 95km

The last stage meant it was going to be a fast a furious race to the finish. This mostly downhill stage had competitors going from 1800m to sea level in only 75kms. The pace was quite fast as people knew it was possible to go hard on the short uphills and recover on the long downhills. Instead of the main road back to Dili the course took us along the side rocky roads through Gleno. This included atleast 10kms of very rough rocky roads on the descent. Having chosen thinner tyres for the fast descent, those 10kms were very sketchy but I made it intact. Most riders were doing 60-70kms on the downhills, but many blind corners consisted of pot holes and washed away roads. Like the other days I was unfortunate to witness another fall in front of me. I had climbed a 5km hill with another competitor from the UN. Chatting on the way up I got to know about his work in Timor-Leste for the UN. Once we hit the top we started going faster and faster downhill. I was getting down as low as I could on every corner like a GP moto racer and taking the turns wide and coming in close to the chicane. On a blind corner he was just ahead of me and I heard a huge screech of tyres. As I went around the corner I saw him upside down in a  ditch. He said he was fine and I should keep going. I later found out he road all the way back on a buckled rear wheel. The last 15 kms was along the coast road again into Dili but this time from the West. Unfortunately the wind had picked up and I found myself out there alone with a strong head wind. I’d gone so hard on the downhill and made progress on the other riders I didn’t want to lose any time I had made up so I just put my head down and gave it all I could. With a few groups only a few hundred metres behind me I luckily held them off and enjoyed riding into Dili alone. The crowds had swelled so much there was only 1 meter between the people on both sides. The crowds were great, cheering all the riders home and even throwing water on us to cool us off. Problem was the water was probably from the open sewers…I was lucky enough to have a police escort into the finish to disperse the crowd. It was a huge relief to make it back unscathed and exhilarated from the fast downhill.


The final, "fast and furious" dash to Dili with 5 short climbs and several long downhill sections. For Piotr the challenge was "getting to the bottom in one piece," and Frank's highlight was, 'passing most people I saw in front of me without even pedaling!" Paul found himself "going around those corners like a Moto GP racer!" Coming into Dili was "challenging with the headwind" for Matt, but "glory was calling!"

All four riders finished well and despite some sore bums all are well and happy to not be cycling today. At the end of the tour out of 300 riders, the placings were for the AAI team; Piotr 41st place, Paul 46th place, Matt 86th place and Frank 176th place. More accurate times will come in the next few days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 4 - Betano to Maubisse

DAY 4: Betano – Maubisse 70km

This stage was always set to be the hardest day with 2500m of climbing from Betano at sea level to Maubisse high in the mountains. From the offset the climbing began, not to steep but gradually got worse and worse and never let up until the fininsh. It was important to pace myself as the roads got steeper and steeper as the stage went on. At one point the inclination was atleast 20% for about a kilometer or two. Most of the ride was not done in packs but in solitary and it was harder on the mind than on the body as you looked ahead and could see riders above you on the steep zig zag roads. The stage finished in the hill top town of Maubisse. A town close to the highest point in Timor-Leste, Mount Ramaleu made famous by 300 brave Aussie soldiers during WWII who held off 50,000 Japanese soldiers with no supplies and would climb this mountain numerous times to escape the Japs and use as a great observation point. They succeeded but not before 60,000 Timorese lost their lives helping the diggers.

For Matt, day 4’s focus was the “spectacular scenery, on a winding road to over 1800 metres, before a rapid descent to Maubisse.” For Frank it was almost the opposite, “one of the hardest things in my life!” From Paul, “at one point the grade was at least 25% for a couple of kilometres, it was extremely challenging.” From Piotr, “making it to the top is quite an achievement.” Our campsite is on a hill with 360 degree views and we look forward to seeing the sunrise.

Day 3 - Loihuno to Betano

DAY 3: Loihuno – Betano 95km

This stage was a relatively long and flat stage on a mix of bitumen, rock and sand with a couple of river crossings. Again the stage began with a downhill section where again I witnessed a terrible crash where a guy slipped on a down ramp from a bridge going really fast, to later have 7 stitches in his hip and end his race. I found todays stage terrible hard because of the long rocky roads, unable to get a constant rhythm going and used too much energy just to stay upright. A day where a dual suspension bike would have certainly come in handy yet I had a hard tail and literally thought the bike was going to fall apart. Luckily it didn’t but in the heat and bumpy roads my energy was certainly depleted. Having lost a drink bottle on the rocky roads I slowly became dehydrated and found it hard to keep up with some of the packs. But as the roads got better once we hit the south coast I was able to keep a consistent pace and swapping leads with a Malaysian national rider I kept up a good pace to the finish line and even had enough strength for a sprint finish.


Piotr's dual suspension came into it's own with his ride "relatively easy, fairly fast track, with some nasty surprises and big holes!" For the other mortals with "hard tails", the ride was best described by Paul, "first half was very rough, hard to keep a consistent speed, hard on the bike and body. Second half was flat with groups moving very fast." After finishing at Betano we camped on the beach, swam amongst fishing boats, black sand, and around two hundred spectators.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 2 - Baucau to Loihuno

DAY 2: Baucau – Loihuno 65km

This stage from Baucau to Loihuno was only 65kms and after yesterdays day was very welcomed except technically it was very hard with steady winding climbs over a mountain range to begin with and a 20km fast decent on rocky and at times steep roads to the finish line. The roads were so bad it was hard to get traction, so it was important to find a good line and stick to it. Any sudden turns and it was easy to go down. This section caused a lot of falls and injuries. I even had a guy directly in front of me who went too fast around a corner and slipped out onto the bitumen to avoid going over the cliff. I was directly behind him in the slip stream so I was headed for the same fate except just as I thought I was going down a one foot ditch on the edge of the road saved me as I bunny hopped into it and was able to straighten and break slightly before coming off, luckily avoiding major injury. After that I thought about slowing down but as anyone who races would know, you throw caution out the window and just go for it as people passing you is not an option! It was probably the most technical stage of the race and I was glad to get back in one piece in a relatively good time. The scenery along this stage was beautiful with race paddies and mountains with sheer cliffs looking down on us made famous by the Japanese in WWII which they used to hide and live. These could still be seen from the road.

The hospitality of Baucau disappeared quickly with the climb to the island’s south. Once again crowds lined the road and the children chanted for each rider. The climbing, “lulled me into a false sense of security regarding road conditions until we hit the big rocky downhill section,” said Frank. For Matt it was, “a shorter but back jarring stage, with the treacherous rocky downhill section”. Some riders were less lucky, with Frank treating 2 riders, one for a broken arm and suspected broken leg, and cleaning the wounds of another rider. At the finish riders were greeted with locals wearing traditional clothes.

Day 1 - Dili to Baucau

DAY 1: Dili – Baucau 130km

The President Jose Ramos Horta welcomed all the competitors and gave us a steering speech at the newly finished Presidential Palace before we were lead out to the main road to the start line where thousands of Timorese had lined the first 10 kms of road out of Dili. Anticipation was high at the start line as 5 days of hard racing beconned. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao slowly made his way through the crowd to start the race as the Timorese cheered him like a rock star.

The first stage was the longest of the five, traversing 130 kilometers along the northern coastal road from Dili to Baucau and the weather was very hot, atleast 30 degrees. A mostly flat stage with 2 climbs and one long steady climb at the end before flattening out and a short descend into Baucau at the finish line.

At the start line, competitors bunched up together, moving closer and closer together as  the nerves got worse and worse waiting for the start. Suddenly there was a big shot and the guys up the front began to move. Everyone quickly clipped in and slowly took off as people jostled for a clear line. Locals cheered as we snaked our way through the Dili streets. People yelled “Viva Timor-Leste” and “malay, malay” (foreigner foreigner). Once over the big hill out of Dili, the rest of the 100 kms was very exposed wind sweeped bitumen roads with random potholes. The scenery was breathtaking with crystal blue water directly to our left and steep cliffs to our right, both untouched by humans yet the barren hills were stripped of their precious trees centuries ago by the Portuguese. Being flat and exposed it was important to stay in packs as long as possible and take turns up the front rather than going alone, using too much energy and being caught anyway.

There were 25 Timor riders who tried really hard but had only been given new bikes the week before and only received clip in shoes the day before. One guy had even taken off his clip in shoes and ridden with socks because they hurt too much. These guys were as hard as nails and a lot of this was new to them. Unfortunately they didn’t carry spare tubes or anything, so when they had a flat tyre they had to wait for someone else to help them.  The only female Timorese rider was one of the jolliest people I had ever met. She spoke some English and giggled and laughed when ever I asked her some questions, I got the feeling she was happy just to go with the flow and see what happened. She even had an unorthodox riding position where she held onto the forks, yes the forks, to get down as low as she could, but I thought that was very dangerous with all the potholes everywhere and I don’t know what she would have done if she hit one or had to swerve suddenly, which happen often, but they were some of the seldom people that had actually ridden the whole course and were certainly acclimatized, which was a big advantage.
Being a road race with MTB’s, most riders were mountain bike riders unaccustomed to riding in packs so it was difficult to get people to work together and more importantly sign for potholes or other obstacles and to this effect there were numerous broken bones during the race. One poor lad broke his hip in the first 20kms of the first day. Not the kind of place you wanted to go to hospital in!!!

At the 120km mark the 10km climb to Baucau began. The shade of the trees along the climb gave somerespite from the harsh midday sun and the downhill finish to Baucau was exhilarating and again people had lined the streets to cheer us on to the finish line.

Seemed as if all of Dili had turned out, the streets awash with colour and crowds. A presidential send off reinforced the importance of the race to Timor L’Este. This soon developed into, "a long, challenging day with no let up",in Paul’s words. Piotr summed up the challenge for himself, Frank and Matt: “big unknown! I have not been in a bike race before and didn’t know what to expect”. All 4 finished safely and congrats to Piotr who finished in 40th overall position.

The race start

Xanana Gusmao watches the race start

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Training in Dili

The AAI team is in good spirits and is starting to get in gear both mentally and physically for the big race. Since arriving the team has been exploring the rugged road conditions and adjusting to the hot temperatures. Matt's bike seems to be okay (nothing that a bottle of oil couldn't fix!!). The team has met with fellow competitors and have been briefed on road and race details. The team continues to train vigorously in preparation for race day. They are all looking forward to starting this extreme challenge which commences on Monday August 24, 2009.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The team settles in to Dili

The whole AAI team's now on the ground in Dili, enjoying the warmth, getting into some training and getting some opportunities to raise awareness about the health needs of Timorese people through some media interviews.
Listen to Frank's interview on Radio National this morning at:

Matt, Paul & Piotr landed in Dili yesterday morning, following Frank who's been in Timor since the weekend. Had a good sleep last night, after catching probably 1.5 hours over previous 36 hours in transit. It was good to finally string up a mozzie net & run a gentle sweat overnight until roosters started crowing from 6am. Had our first coffee this morning (it's great coffee here).

We installed bikes yesterday & rode to Jesus along the beach road, the road surface around Dili is good but there are lots of obstacles including holes, rough patches, rocks, cars, motor bikes, pedestrians, dogs, chickens... it's certainly a long way from dull!

Matt's bike's got some mechanical issues already. Hmmm... Today will be a good chance to find out the quality of local mechanical support.

We'll keep you posted!

Monday, August 17, 2009

AAI Tour de Timor make the papers

Paul was featured in the Diamond Valley Leader on 27th July and you can read the article here:

Matt was featured in the Leader on 14th August and you can read the article here:

Frank was featured in the Progress Leader on 23rd July and you can read the article here:

Training is over and now we leave.

After months of rigorous training, riding up and down numerous mounatains around Melbourne, the team have packed their bikes into boxes, stocked up on energy bars and gels, checked and rechecked their gear and are setting off tomorrow for Dili. The boys arrive in Dili on Thursday and have only 3 days to acclimatise and get ready for the start of the race on monday. Go here to learn more about the race

Friday, August 14, 2009

Official AAI jerseys.

Thanks to Andrew from EmbroidMe we have acquired a great team jersey. Now we are a REAL team and Cadel modeled one for us.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tour de Timor

Welcome to our Blog on the 2009 Tour de Timor.
The riders that are going in this years event to Represent Australian Aid International are: Frank Tyler, Paul Piaia, Matt Morrison and Piotr Czajkowski