Tour de Timor – Day 1

The day began in fine style, milling around the garden in the front of the presidential palace.

Presidential Palace, Dili

Still fresh and happy, more than 400 cyclists with smiles on their faces, as if unaware of what was to come.

Fresh faces and innocent...

The President himself was there for this great occasion,of course, and would soon lower the flag for the official race start.  But before that, like so many other political figures in so many other countries, he had to smile and press the flesh.  And I have to say that he did it with tireless grace.
Here’s a suggestion for you folks, now that we’ve well and truly arrived in the age of digital photography.  If someone hands you a camera and asks you to take a photograph of them, take a few.  You’re not wasting any film.  There’s plenty of room on the card.  Keep pressing that button, over and over.
I passed my camera to a very nice and no doubt incredibly patient lady, whose husband was one of the older riders in the group, and asked her to capture this historic moment as I shook the hand of the leader of our nearest nation, and the world’s youngest democracy.
“Which camera is your one?” asked his excellency.  Here is a photo of me indicating my camera to the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Me and the Prez

Just moments before that we were embracing and discussing his plans for the next stage of Timor Leste’s development, and I was offering him some sage advice about how to look after his country’s veterinary needs, and we swapped recipes for a bit and traded jokes.  But this is the only photo that I got.
The first 70 kms of the stage were along a reasonably good bitumen road, hugging the north-east coast of the island, before we turned inland and started to go uphill.  To the left was an endless surf beach, with gentle rollers coming in, and to the right was a sandy and sparsely populated hinterland.  Sparsely?  There were grass huts and collections of people, and the occasional goat.  There wasn’t much undergrowth.  One had the impression that blades of grass probably tried to grow, but as soon as any got more than a few millimetres out of the ground a goat would pounce.
Because it was day one, and because it was bitumen, and because it was fairly flat (apart from a couple of short but hard hills) the pace was pretty high.  At least the group I found myself in was travelling pretty fast.  And I didn’t seem to notice that I was perhaps working a bit too hard.  Until about the 70 km mark when it suddenly dawned on me that I felt a bit pooped.  With another 35 km to go and a lot of uphill,  well it wasn’t ideal.  I dropped off the back of the bunch I’d been riding with, and made my own, slower pace along a long, straight, gently uphill stretch of very boring road which seemed to go on and on forever.  Finally I arrived at the last water point, at 85 kms.  I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and pushed on.

Water stop

From here it was very tough.  Here’s what the race book said:  “The town of Cribas (at 85km) marks the beginning of the second KOM.  Unlike the first KOM the roads are in a dire state of repair making for some difficult technical climbing.”  It should have said “at this point if you’re feeling a bit stuffed you will find the roads are steep, rocky, rough and make for some pretty slow walking as you painfully push your bike skywards.”  But maybe when they wrote the  race book they didn’t have me in mind.
Gradually all the people who I’d previously passed on the flat roads began to catch me up, and pass me, their smooth pedalling seeming to mock me as I wearily brought one foot up to pass the other, under a hot, hot afternoon sun.  If the gradient eased up a bit I would get back on and pedal for a while.  I guess I probably pedalled more than I walked, but not by much.  Finally the top of the hill and the KOM sign came and went.

Endless hill...

According to the race book what remained should have been just a whisker more than 10 km, and nearly all downhill.  I was utterly spent, and had just run out of water.   I could hardly take any more, and there were a few times that I stopped and just lay down on the side of the road.  But 10kms, and mostly downhill?  Surely I could manage that.
What I’ve since discovered is that the profiles published in the race book aren’t strictly speaking what you would call entirely accurate.  Mostly downhill turned out to be more like a sawtooth of bone rattling descents and more slow uphill trudging, expecting at the top of each rise or around each bend to see the village of Lacluba and the day’s finish line.
At the top of that second KOM if I’d have known how far away the finish line really was, I probably would have stopped and waited for the sag wagon to pick me up.  But really – only 10 kms!
When I finally reached Lacluba it was to find a finish line at the top of a long uphill stretch of road.  I’d been walking, but in a last show of pride or bravado, or possibly stupidity, I got back on the bike and rode up that hill.  I crossed the line and nearly collapsed into the arms of a waiting official.  My bike was taken off me, I was given water and taken to the medical tent.  At the start of the day I’d weighed in at 79kg.  We’d been warned that if we lost too much weight during any one day we would risk not being allowed to start the next day.  I weighed in at 74 kg.  Oops.  I felt sick, I was cold, shivering, weak.  Horrible.  My blood pressure was 80 over 60, my temperature was 35.8, heart rate 65 and apparently I looked a bit grey.  I certainly felt very clammy.
Two hours shivering under a space blanket and slowly sipping away at some isotonic fluids until I had put away 2.5 litres of the stuff and they let me out.  But I had to keep drinking and get a bit of weight back on before the morning. I had been warned.
By now it was about 6pm, close to dusk, so I had to move fast to find my bags (and my bike), get my tent up, get showered and cleaned up and get some food.  Having just recovered from what felt like a near death experience, and in the chilly evening air at 1100 metres above sea level, a cold shower wasn’t my preferred method of cleaning, but it was all there was.
You’d think I might have slept well after all that, but not having done much all day my kidneys decided to make up for lost time and I was up about every 90 minutes or so to wee.  Still, I was feeling better, and hopeful of a better day on stage two.  All I had to do was satisfy the medics in the morning…

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. SandSS
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 14:05:57

    omgoodness mate, take my hat off too you, guess you have to know what your up against,sounded like you just rode across the Nullabor,do take it easy,wooden spoons are good but wrecked Vets are not,take much care,look fwd to hearing you are back home ‘safe&well’, SkSS : )


  2. Heidi
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 18:15:17

    Wow, that’s just incredible. I’d take my hat off to you, sir, if I had a hat on. I can’t even imagine distances like that, much less exercising enough to lose five kilos in a single day.

    Stay hydrated, and stay safe. At least now you know how to better pace yourself?

    Looking forward to more stories!


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