Forget le Tour de France, forget Paris – Roubaix – if you want to see – or ride in a really tough cycling Tour then head off to Timor Leste next week for the first of what will hopefully become an annual event – the inaugural Tour de Timor.
Timor Leste slipped pretty easily off the radar for most people not long after the events of 1999 and beyond and for most Australians it is most likely in the same class as the so-called “Aboriginal problem” – coloured people that speak a strange language and live a long way away from anywhere important or relevant – like the south-east coastal fringe.
But the Timorese are nothing if not determined and the Tour de Timor is an imaginative attempt to kick-start tourism in a country that – and I have to rely on the report of many friends who’ve been there because I haven’t made it over the Timor Sea to Dili and points beyond yet…
And, by all accounts – and looking at the pix and the stage profiles on the Tour’s home page – it will be a tough race.
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta told SBS and warned that:
…the race will be one of the toughest in the world. The Tour will be “one of the most challenging bike races anywhere in the world, probably tougher than the Tour de France”, he said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ramos-Horta said his country’s proud amateur cyclists were ready to take on the world, particularly regional sporting giants Australia and New Zealand.
“Australians and New Zealanders are known to be very tough competitors,” he told AFP.
“But they cannot compete against the tough East Timorese so I think the moment they see the geography, the conditions, they will probably prefer to stay in Byron Bay and enjoy the sunshine there.”
The Tour de Timor is at the wrong end of the cycling calendar to attract the big teams and famous riders who right now are riding the European summer classics.
But with 300 riders from 75 teams signed up for the inaugural event it stands every chance of being a very useful inclusion in southern hemisphere winter calendar and – perhaps most importantly – a great kickstart for the fledgling Timor Leste tourism industry.
And, finances and circumstances permitting – I may be able to make it over for next year’s race.