Subject: Home advantage in the gruelling Tour de Timor
Brisbane Times Home advantage in the gruelling Tour de Timor Lindsay Murdoch in Dili
August 24, 2009
TWENTY-FIVE young East Timorese say their inside knowledge of mist-shrouded mountains will give them an advantage in one of the world's most gruelling bike challenges.
Francelina Marques Cabal, 24, has already ridden the 450-kilometre Tour de Timor route and says more than 300 riders from 15 countries will face unique difficulties.
Without giving too much away, Cabal refers to ''big rocks'' she says will create havoc among riders competing for $US75,000 ($91,000) prizemoney.
Asked whether a Timorese can win East Timor's biggest sporting event, which the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, has described as ''probably tougher than the Tour de France'', Cabal laughs. ''I hope so,'' she says. ''Why not?''
The race, starting in Dili today, is one of the events marking the 10th anniversary on August 30 of East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia.
East Timor's leaders say the race will boost tourism and the country's image after years of unrest, including attacks on Mr Ramos-Horta and the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, last year. Riders will tackle probably the worst roads ever seen in a cycling tour over five days.
They will climb 2000 metres through highland villages and dense forest where guerillas evaded Indonesian troops during Jakarta's 24-year rule of the former Portuguese territory.
On the final descent on August 28, riders will wind their way through paddies and coffee plantations back to Dili, with a final sprint at the end of the 95-kilometre stretch, if they are still up for it.
Festivals will be held in four villages where the riders will spend the night, involving thousands of mostly impoverished Timorese.
Cabal and 24 other riders selected to form East Timor's national bike squad have spent three weeks in a training camp, riding up to 60 kilometres a day. They were given mountain bikes, jerseys and other equipment.
''The camp was at an army base. The food wasn't very good and I got sick,'' Cabal says.
But she says the Timorese have strategies they hope will allow one of them to be wearing the winner's yellow jersey during at least one of the stages.
Mr Ramos-Horta first decided to back an international bike race in 2006 but an outbreak of violence forced its cancellation.
''The Tour de Timor will be a mixture of elite international athletes who will be competing fiercely for the top places of this event and many other riders who will be engaged in the experience with unforgettable memories that they will gain from meeting the people of Timor-Leste [East Timor] as they explore the beautiful scenery of this country,'' he said.