TDT stage 5

 Something about this concept of a stage race inevitably draws out the Groundhog day reference
Each day follows a similar pattern – wake, wash, wipe weary eyes; eat up, pack up, line up; push pedals, chew Powerbars, put up with pain; endure, endure, endure and finally finish, fast and fabulous, or perhaps just a bit flat, a flicker of one’s former self.   Not every day is so fabulously alliterative, nor as conceitedly contrived, but you get the idea.
And as I write this, it occurs to me that a blog about a stage race runs the risk of being a very Groundhog day kind of thing too.  Oh my goodness, not only did these tedious athletes and wannabe athletes ride their over-priced bikes again today, but this fluffed up ponce with his gangly glabrous legs and his lurid lycra wants us to read about it again in boringly minute detail.  We did this yesterday already!  Fine if cyclists want to volunteer for repeated doses of daily suffering, but that’s not for us.  We are enlightened readers and we won’t stand for it.
Or so I imagine.

Sunrise, day 5

So I will do my best to avoid the temptation to give you a blow by blow account of my experience of the roads of Stage 5, and let the day lead us down some other path.
 At 144 kms Stage 5 was set to be a long day.  I heard many people saying things like “this will be the furthest I have ever ridden in a day” which made me wonder what sort of training they did, but there you go.  Really, the fact that some people end up on the sag wagon on not one by many days is no surprise.  The surprise is that they would enter an event like this in the first place.  But there, the stage has barely begun and I’m already digressing.
To allow for the length of the ride we were scheduled to start an hour earlier than normal, and so it was that nearly 400 riders lined up at the start line, the dust and hills of Timor Leste to their left, the sparkling blue waters of the sea to their right, and an already punchy hot sun poking its head up above the horizon, glaring across the flattish ocean.

At the starting line, day 5

The wind was behind us, the road was before us and all seemed well with the world.  And then an announcement.  The start would be delayed for some time, because some distance up the road there had been an accident with one of the forward convoy vehicles.  The driver and passenger needed treatment and the crash site needed to be cordoned off and a detour found.  It didn’t sound good.  At the end of the day we learnt the tragic news that the young Australian soldier driving the truck had died.  As yet I still don’t know many more details than that, and there is an investigation pending, but it sounds like it was ‘just’ a terrible, freakish accident.

Waiting at the start line....

After waiting at the start line a while we were called to attention again, and the day’s racing got underway at 8am.  Some two hours or so later I was in a group of about fifteen or twenty riders all mostly working together and getting along at a good pace, when I was suddenly aware of a commotion behind me.  We had just descended a short hill which finished with a sweeping right angle bend to the left of which was a 3 metre drop, and one rider had misjudged this and gone over the edge.  We all stopped and rushed back to his aid.  Amazingly he stood up almost straight away, wiped away the dust and declared himself to be fine.  How he fell those three metres at that speed without any injury is incredible.
Unfortunately the crowd of watching riders milling around this spot had created a small traffic hazard, and a following cyclist came to grief at the same spot and in the same manner, this time probably because of having to swerve a bit wider.  He too hit the ground at the bottom of the embankment.  He too rose to his feet again, a bit tottery at first, but then declared himself fit to carry on.  By this time people were yelling instructions to the crowd at the top of the hill to warn approaching cyclists, and there was commotion and consternation all round.  Stupidly somehow, just after we’d left and moved on, a third rider came to grief at the same spot, breaking his collar bone and ending his tour.
Some 8kms up the road Pedro, the Portugese rider who’d been the second to go over the embankment, and the second to rise again, albeit teetering and tottering for a while, was suddenly in a lot of trouble.  He’d been riding well enough at first, strongly even, but had suddenly stopped and was in obvious distress.  As luck would have it there was a doctor in the group and neurological and physical exams were conducted and first aid administered, but it was clear that Pedro was not well.  Having stopped at the earlier embankment for 10 minutes or so, and with Pedro again for another 15 minutes, and not being able to contribute anything valuable to the situation, most of us rode on, leaving Pedro and two of his team mates to look after him.
Not long after that the race ambulance caught up with him, and by that evening I had learned that he had already been flow to Singapore for further testing and work up of his suspected cervical vertebral compression fracture(s).
The major climb of the day followed, some 15 kms of 5 or 6% up through forested country with the sound of running water never far away.  The middle of the climb was the village of Bacau, whose swimming pool was featured in the movie Balibo.

Piscine de Bacau

Despite the shade of the trees and the sound of running water it was still hot.  Not quite hellishly hot, but hot none-the-less, and there’s nothing like a bit of uphill to make normal hot feel like hellish hot if not in a heartbeat then in a few hundred of them, and the heartbeats were coming thick and fast.  As my temperature rose it became obvious that I was headed into dangerous territory again (dammit!) and would either risk dehydration and heat stroke or would need to stop and recharge.
I stopped.
At a little road side shop, the kind that is all over this part of the world.  For a couple of bucks I got a large bottle of water. Refrigerated water!  Miracle.  Some went down my throat, some down my back, some in my water bottle, and the rest to a passing rider who happened by just at the right moment, looking about as hot as I felt, but determined not to stop.  And to cap it off I got a complimentary banana!
Suitably refreshed and recharged I hit the road again, making the finish line a few hours later.  Having lost a bit of time to embankments and sore necks and cold water it wasn’t a great result, but compared to other people I figured I’d had a good day out.
Whereas the day had begun with high spirits and beautiful surrounds, it had ended in a sombre mood and in frankly gritty, grotty surrounds in the village of Manatuto.  We were camped in the local high school grounds, right on the foreshore.  All was dust and dirt and decay within the school grounds and buildings, and grim and grey without.  Of course it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as this was the last night of the tour, and the following day would be the last, short, fast stage into Dili.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra Smith
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 13:33:54

    nice commentary


  2. Heidi
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 18:56:03

    Saddle sores don’t seem so bad compared to a broken collar bone! Good to know you kept (relatively) out of danger.


  3. Monty
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 09:35:59

    Very well written John, sounds amazing! A death , someone flown to Singapore, sleeping in tents, hot and dusty ! Only for the physically and mentally tough athletes, well done !


  4. Anita Mac
    Jan 19, 2012 @ 00:37:26

    Sounds like quite the eventful event! Terrible news about the young soldier. Sounds like you did well – kept out of trouble! Rubber side down – always the best advice.


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