Tour De Timor Blog

Something big is on the way...

posted 2 Nov 2009, 03:33 by Rowan Mc Murray   [ updated 5 Nov 2009, 01:29 ]

Well, it has been a bit quiet since Timor.  I took some time to relax, see my brother safely married, and catch up with a lot of friends.  Unfortunately my trip back to Australia was not quite long enough, and didn't let me catch up with all of the friends I wanted to see, but it was good fun anyway.  But it is finally time to start planning for the next adventure.  I am keeping a little quiet about exactly what it is, but the site will be changing its appearance a bit over the next few weeks, and you should be able to get a few not so subtle hints from that!  I am also working on getting up a feed link, so that you can be notified every time I update it, and don't have to keep checking back.  But, well, that isn't here for now, so please check back to see when it arrives!

Race Report

posted 29 Aug 2009, 22:37 by Rowan Mc Murray

Well, it has been a while sorry, but I am finally back in Dili, and sufficiently rested to give an update from the Tour de Timor.


The race turned out to be a huge event, with around 300 starters from 12 countries.  Officially the event was a road race, but with the quality of roads in Timor Leste that was always an interesting definition, and the rules actually stipulated mountain bikes with minimum 1.6” tyres.  After racing over the course I understand completely why they put in this stipulation.  Much of the road surface was asphalt with large potholes and washouts big enough to swallow a bike and rider, while other sections of the course were gravel road or just dirt road covered in sharp rocks.  Certainly a road bike would have been very unlikely to survive intact, and as it was several mountain bikes proved inadequate for the job. 


The standard of rider was quite variable, with some elite MTB riders who were on their way to the MTB World Cup round in Canberra using this event for a final hit out, and several elite road riders making the trip over.  In addition there were several people with very little racing experience, including some who had never done a stage race in their lives.


It was my first race back after injuring my knee a year ago, and so I was uncertain how I would perform.  I was also reluctant to push too hard, least I re-injure it, preferring a conservative approach to make sure I finished.  Combined with a road surface that really didn’t suit my riding skills I never expected great results, but was hoping to finish in the prize money at least.


Day one went pretty well, with a a few early undulations followed by a pretty reasonable climb to finish off.  I was riding happily until the fast guys all kicked on a climb about a third of the way in.  Although I was still feeling good I just didn’t seem to have the very top end performance needed to hold onto them.  I think that is what I had to expect following a year without racing, but can’t claim not to have been disappointed.  Happily though I was still feeling good, so I managed to hold onto a second group and then ride away from them with one other guy on the final climb, bringing me in for 20th overall.  Disappointingly, this was to be my best finish for the race.


We stayed that night in Betano, the second biggest city in Timor Leste.  It was a great village with friendly people and a great swimming pool to cool down in after the race.  Camping on the floor of the old school building was nice, but I think most of the riders were wishing that the locals were not partying outside.  It was OK though, they stopped about 3am.


Day two was not one I was looking forward to.  It started with some nice climbing, which was all good, but we had been told that the road conditions then went downhill very quickly, as the road itself also went downhill very quickly.  With very little recent MTB experience and a definite wish to protect my knee I was always going to be very conservative on this descent.  I also decided to take it easy on the climb to make sure I was fresh and alert for it.  It turned out to be every bit as tough as I had feared.  I had crested the hill with a mountain bike racer by the name of Dave.  I was pretty sure he would be going hard down the hill, and was interested to see how our times compared.  As it turned out, he was over 10 minutes quicker than me on the way down, despite having to stop when he lost his chain.  It is pretty clear I need to work on that aspect of my riding!


I still managed to come in around 43rd, and more importantly come in intact, on a day when a lot of people lost a lot of skin.  Arriving at the finish I was exhausted and pretty hungry.  One of the difficulties of this race is that the roads we raced on are pretty much the only roads, and they are so bad that bikes can often go faster than cars or trucks.  What this meant was that this particular morning, although we had, as usual, got all our gear onto the transport trucks by 7:00am, the riders caught the trucks following the 8:30 start.  That meant the trucks had to pull over and wait for ALL of the riders to pass by and the road to re-open, reminiscent of a lot of my Tour de France experiences.  Since the tail end of the field was coming in pretty slowly, with many people nursing injuries, we had hours to wait for our gear to arrive.  In the mean time though there was a stall selling local food around the corner.  Four of us went up to get something to eat.  There was asome highly complicated discussion on prices, but in the end we gave them one dollar for our light lunch for four.  When they went looking for change we told them not to worry about it.  It really would have been wrong to do anything else I think.


Day three was always going to be interesting.  It started with a continuation of the horror descent from day two, but then turned long and flat.  I could see instantly that I was going to loose time on the descent.  One of the key things about bike racing is that you get a huge advantage from drafting.  What this meant was that I would be left behind on the descent, and then have to find a fast bunch to work with and catch up.  It started as predicted, and sure enough I got to the bottom with a lot of time to make up.  I soon found myself in a bunch, but then made a huge tactical mistake.  They were a bunch with different racing objectives to me, and they were not going as fast as I wanted to.  What I should have done was ride straight away from them, and soloed until I caught another faster bunch up the road.  What I did was stay with them, and keep trying to increase their speed.  All the time I was doing this the gaps to the faster bunches were getting bigger and bigger.  By the time I thought about what was happening they were very big.  So I took off anyway, with one person from that bunch coming with me to help.  He had had a pretty tough day the day before, so I was pulling longer turns, but still he came through when I needed it for just long enough to let me eat and drink and get my heart rate down a few beats.  Eventually we caught a few more people, but dropped most of them quite quickly.  About 20km out it was Patrick and I and a Timorese rider.  Patrick came through and did a huge turn, knowing that he was spent but willing to give all the energy he had to keep us moving quickly, before dropping off.  The Timorese guy and I kept pushing hard, although he was doing about 15 second turns to my three minute turns.  Finally we saw the line.  Since I was more concerned with the total time than placings I decided to give him the sprint, so about 300m out I called him through and told him to sprint for the line.  He sprinted, as I shouted encouragement, but then hit the end of his 15 seconds and sat up exhausted.  Ridiculously I had to hit the brakes to get him over the line ahead of me, but I think it was worth it for the joy it gave the locals to see their guy coming home in front.  Not the very front alas, I think we were still about 36th and 37th, but I was happy with how I had ridden and how I felt.  I was a little concerned that I may have overdone it and would suffer for day four, but figured I would worry about that at the time.


In the mean time we had a magnificent spot to camp on the beach, which also gave us some great swimming.


Day four was the shortest day, with the biggest climb.  I was hoping to do pretty well, and make up some places.  Unfortunately I had to work very hard on day three, so recovery was going to be important.  I had thought hard about what I ate and drank the day before, done a lot of stretching and self massage, and was hoping I would be OK.  The stage started and I pushed up to be with the front bunch.  It was a fairly big bunch, but I was feeling good.  I had a good feeling about the day.  Then, I started struggling to hold on.  I lost contact with the bunch up a steep pinch, and had to work very hard to get back on.  Soon afterwards it happened again.  I still felt strong, but clearly something was wrong. I seemed to be sinking into the bike with each pedal stroke.  Finally I woke up enough to lock out my front suspension, but was still bouncing up and down.  Then I noticed that my tyre was half way to flat.  Foolishly I kept riding for a while, hoping to get to a flat spot to change it, but there was no flat spot, so the only effect was to tire me out more.  Eventually I stopped to change it, and was instantly swarmed by the locals.  They all wanted to help, but I resisted the temptation to say ‘great, pump that for me!’ (only because it was against the rules).  Unfortunately I lost over 10 minutes fixing that (next race I do without a spares vehicle I will definitely take a gas tyre inflator), and I think when I was done it was still a very soft tyre.  I managed to climb back up through a number of places though, and I think I came in somewhere in the 30s.


We camped that night in the town of Maubissi, in a valley amongst the most spectacular hills you can imagine.  With the altitude we had gained it was actually cold overnight, and in the morning the mountains looming out of the mist below were just stunning.  Pictures will follow when I get some faster internet!


Day five was basically down hill, but with a whole lot of short climbs thrown in.  Once again my slow descending on the poor roads cost me in a big way.  I would pass lots of people every time the road flattened out or headed up, and then they would all fly past me on the descents.  I managed to get to the bottom of the hill though, and then it was just a long flat drag home.  I picked up one guy along the way, and then we picked up a second, Justin.  I think Justin is slightly nuts, because he did the entire race on a single speed.  Slightly nuts, and also astonishingly tough.  On the flats roads though he couldn’t pedal fast enough.  Once again he did a turn when he could, but eventually got dropped, leaving two of us to sprint home to salvage some pride.


Unfortunately I misjudged the distance to the line, underestimating it by about four kilometres.  I opened up and started sprinting, and then just kept going.  Unfortunately, getting slower as I went.  The other guy must have been laughing, and of course he came past me on the line, giving us 39th and 40th places.  This was enough to get me an overall result of 31st place.  It wasn’t quite what I had hoped, but still not too bad.


Overall though the event was fantastic.  The country is beautiful, the people friendly, the landscape spectacular, the organisation was great (although of course there were a few hiccups, as you have to expect with the first ever stage race in Timor Leste) and the other racers a wonderful bunch.  Also, my knee survived well and I felt like I was riding pretty well, so I am looking forward to getting into a lot more racing coming up.





The Bad News and the Good News

posted 22 Aug 2009, 02:17 by Rowan Mc Murray

So the bad news is that internet in Timor Leste is not so great.  It is very hard to find, and when you do it costs a lot, and it is VERY slow. 
The good news is that the place is brilliant.  It is really great.  The race organisers have been working hard to make sure we get a good welcome, and it sounds like there will be some great things provided for the race, with logistics crews all over the country working even as I write.  But beyond that, just the place is great.  The people are generally very friendly and helpul, but it is not (yet) a tourist trap, there are few pushy salesmen selling cheap Chinese souveniers, and most people are just amazed to see a crazy white guy on a bike.  They will be more amazed on Monday, when there are 300 of them!
The country is also beautiful.  It is volcanic, so the hills are steep and dramatic.  The roads are just appalling (all the MTBers seem to be rubbing their hands in glee, but I am just plain scared) but they take you very quickly out of Dili into the most beautiful bays and beaches, or up into the mountains where you can see for miles.  The weather is hot but not to hot, and not even to humid.  A rider asked in the briefing last night what happened if it rained, and the organisers had to stop laughing before they could answer the question.  This place is dry.
Dili is also great.  To me it looks like what you would have if you took the less developed parts of Malaysia and removed 90% of the people.   It is just beautiful though.  Not to much litter, and so far pretty unspoiled.  Hopefully it will remain that way!
I have been doing a bit of riding, but nothing too strenuous.  There are some great peope over here for the race, and I am actually looking forward to spending a week intensively in their company.  For a guy who likes his space as much as me, that means they are good! 
As far as the racing goes, it will be fun.  It will definately be hard.  Some of the people here are obviously very serious racers, and will be going very hard.  Others are less serious.  Some are definately here just for the fun of it.  We have also been told that they are working to make sure the broom wagon has cold beer in it, and there were quite a few eyes lit up when that was announced.
Unfortunately I think this will be the last chance I get to update this until after the race, but results should be available on  If anyone is desperate to know more, I do have a phone over here though, so should be contactable most of the time on +670 754 9960.
Time to go hear the latest about the race, can't wait for it to begin!

Tour de Timor - Here I come!

posted 11 Apr 2008, 15:58 by Rowan Mc Murray   [ updated 17 Aug 2009, 09:19 ]

Well, I am off on my next adventure. I am currently in transit, heading for Timor Leste, to race in the Tour de Timor. It is a 450km, 5 stage road race, and has over 300 entries from around the world. It is a road race, but due to the state of the roads in Timor Leste it is to be held on mountain bikes. It travels around the country, with all accommodation being provided for the duration of the race. I love that on the race web site ( the request to bring a tent and sleeping bag comes right after that information.

I haven’t been there yet, but it seems that Timor Leste is a quickly developing country. In some places there seem to be lots of facilities for tourists, with hotels and dive operators and everything you would expect in a tropical holiday spot. In other places it seems a bit less developed, hence the request to bring tents. This may not suit everyone, but to me it sounds fantastic. I am happy to kip in a tent every now and then, and the opportunity to see a lot of this country in a fairly undeveloped state will be well worth it.

Because it was a last minute decision to come here, things have been a bit rushed. The process started with bicycle conversion. My trusty mountain bike, now a Tour de France veteran, had to be stripped down from its touring configuration to become a light weight race machine. Off came lights and bells and reflectors and luggage racks. A new chain and cluster was well in order, with the old ones have many thousands of kilometres, and there was a bit of attention needed to tyres.

Having looked at the route maps and descriptions it was pretty clear that on two days there would be an advantage from running slicks, while on the others knobby tyres would be ok. Unfortunately, there were also some rules to be considered, and they ruled out the slicks I already owned, on the basis that they were too narrow. A little internet searching quickly came up with a number of other options, but alas they all struck out in the price category. It looked like I would be racing on knobbies the whole way. Without having physically travelled the course it is hard to know what impact this would have on my race time, but hopefully it would not be too great. It certainly had a big impact on my packing time though. Knowing that the Australian Quarantine Inspections Service are very good at their very important job, and not wanting to bring nasty bugs into my own country, I decided that the bike would be thoroughly stripped and cleaned, so there was no dirt or mud on it. This wasn’t so tough for the frame and most of the running gear, but scrubbing out the tread of the knobbies took literally hours. Good to know they are still nice and grippy though! It was early Saturday morning by the time I got to sleep, and I still had some things to do, so the alarm went off not long after. Everything got done though, with enough time for Niki and I to spend a nice day in Wiesbaden before she dropped me at Frankfurt Airport (again, I am doing this with great support from home!). From then on though I had 32 hours of either flying or waiting in airports.

Finally though I arrived in Darwin, only to realise I was missing a crucial accessory for my bike. So I got to spend the first couple of hours searching local bike shops! Actually, this turned out well, because while in one of these shops I noticed some very suitable tyres on a back shelf. I asked the guy how much they were, and the answer was once again out of my price range, but that was, it turned out, immaterial, because these tyres were not for sale. They had got them in specially, he told me, because they were heading over to Timor Leste next week for a bike race!

So I got to meet my first competitors in the flesh. Now I never actually race with animosity to my competitors, and I think this will be the sort of race that leads to much more bonding than competing. Certainly things went that way today, and we ended up having a good chat including discussion of suitable gear and a complete going over the bikes they will be taking. Nice looking bikes, and of course great tyres, so I am looking forward to some enjoyable competition from the "Deadly Treadlies" guys.

As I continued on my way down the street, I saw a big mobile home, similar to the millions you see at the Tour de France, but painted up with ABC radio symbols and the name Ian MacNamara. Now it is a fairly diverse group of people who read this blog, and I am sure some of you will be thinking "who?", but the fact is that the only reason why a significant proportion of Australians even realise when it is a Sunday morning is when they hear Macca on the radio. Turns out he is on his ‘Say G;day’ tour, so of course I did. We had a bit of a chat, that ended up with him getting out his mike and we had a quick interview there on the street. So anyone with suitable access should be able to tune in to that interview some time between 6am and 10am on Sunday the 23rd.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the streets of Darwin. For a while, I was quite confused. There didn’t seem to be many people about. But then I realised it was simply that I was in the wrong place. It turns out that the Darwin Festival is on at the moment. This isn’t quite on the scale of the Avignon Festival, but still makes for good fun with nice areas lit up and filled with music and people and food and beer and wine stalls.

So now, the plan is a good night’s sleep, before getting up at 6am to catch my flight to Dili. Hopefully from there I will still be able to update regularly, but we will soon know!



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