Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tour de Timor 2011 = An adventure of peace

When I received the invitation to participate in a mountain bike stage race in the Indonesian country of Timor-Lest last year, they offered the most generous prize amount I have seen in my whole career.  It was difficult to believe that anyone would offer $100,000 in prize money to come to Timor and race for peace and to promote good will in the country.  Yeah, right, I thought.  That was way too good to be true, and I didn't go but it was mostly because I also had other commitments here in the US and I soon forgot about it.  Then this year, the promoter contacted me again, urging me to attend this amazing event, and showed me the press and publicity from the 2010 race and proof of the payout...of course this tantalizing hunk of change was appealing!!  So I decided to do a good deed and not so much altruistically, headed to Timor for almost 3 weeks to visit with the President of Timor, participate in the country's peace ride, and race my mountain bike from September 11 to 16 on the roads exploring the entire country for 6 days, and roughed it in tents for four of them.  I had to forego the National Marathon XC race and as it turned out, the much anticipated 24 Hour solo National race less than 2 weeks after I returned.

I contacted my good friend Chris Bray of Cannondale Cannasia, who was very excited about the opportunity to travel to the remote location to participate and support me and the race.  Chris was nice enough to pack up tents, sleeping bags, mosquito nets, a battery powered fan, an extra Cannondale Scalpel, flashlights, and other assorted camping essentials.  I couldn't have asked for a better team partner for the event and he spoiled me rotten.    Neither one of us knew what we were up against, which turned out to be six days of brutal racing against some of the strongest mountain bikers and road cyclists from Australia and a handful of other athletes who didn't have to travel 23 hours.  We had a great time and had one hell of an experience!

Entering the finish after stage 2

There is more to just racing than riding your bike as fast as you can.  We learned a lot about the culture, the reasons the President of Timor put the event together, and witnessed the most spectacular support of mostly children cheering us on along the roads and especially when we entered the remote towns. We learned that there were so many children and elderly folks but not that many parents around because of the decades long independence struggle to separate from Indonesia which damaged infrastructure and displaced tens of thousands of citizens and tore apart families. 

From Wikipedia: The President, José Manuel Ramos-Horta is the President of East Timor, the second since independence from Indonesia, taking office on 20 May 2007. He is a co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize and a former Prime Minister, having served from 2006 until his inauguration as President after winning the 2007 East Timorese presidential election.[1] President Ramos-Horta suffered critical injuries in an assassination attempt in 2008.  He has been instrumental in building the government infrastructure and peace within the new country.  I thought he was such a great person and a role-model President.  He was so happy to have us there and treated us like royalty in his simple Presidential home, which was sensible and comfortable.

He spends a lot of time building schools, churches, and communities to foster the peace and security for the people of Timor-Leste.  He is definitely a special person and it was an honor to be invited to the the event, to be able to spend so much time with him, and to be a part of his peace mission.  I will forever be grateful for this lifetime experience.

The race was amazing and very difficult.  There were views of the volcanic mountain terrain, beautiful remote beaches, lush green tropical forest areas, and it was quite different than any other place I've been.  The ocean and beaches were spectacular but we were warned about the saltwater crocodiles.  The entire race was on the roads of Timor-Lest but we had to ride the mountain bikes because these were not paved and they were full of ruts and potholes.  They were primitive and functioned mostly to serve as thoroughfares for travel but there were very few vehicles.

My bike was a stark contrast to the primitive surroundings.  I raced my Carbon Cannondale Flash 26 with my new prototype 24SEVEN Kenda signature tires which was a perfect choice (they weigh only about 450g).  There was no way a road bike or cyclocross bike would be useful in the duration of the race and we didn't need the extra bike Chris brought. 

I had tough competition and managed to hold on to the King of the Mountain jersey for the first 3 days and finished in the top 5 for all the days except the last day when the leaders kept their overall finishes.  By the way, I really really enjoyed racing with the Australians.  They were such a nice group of people and we had  great time.  My overall finish was first place for my age group, second place for team, and fourth place overall.  But the experience gained by participating and therefore helping the people of Timor was far more important than the awards.  It was an amazing adventure.
Chris Bray of Cannasia
A monument outside the President's palace memorializing the assassination attempt

Children's Peace ride in Dilli on Saturday before the race

Chris Bray, President José Ramos-Horta , and me

A handshake with Mark Berrends the Race Director

Amazing Timorese rider who completed the entire event

Top leader group
And THANK YOU Timor-Leste for an amazing lifetime experience!

1 comment:

O said...

Great to read your report. I completed the race in 2009 and 2010 and also just enjoyed the special hospitality of the folk of Timor Leste. I was SO wishing I had done it this year so that I could have met you Tinker..you are a legend! I have been racing bikes since I was 17 and mountainbikes since the first races in Brisbane in 1987. I am a year older than you and in awe of your achievements. Really glad you came to add to the race in Timor.