Arriving at Changi Airport we had over 20 riders from Singapore and LOTS of excess baggage. Many thanks to Austasia Airlines for not weighing our bags!
A short four-hour flight and we were in Timor-Leste with a VIP welcome. The four Blackhawk helicopters across the runway set the stage for what would be the most exposure I've ever had to United Nations and Australian Military forces. Though I must say I never felt any sense of danger.
The air was pretty thick with racers trying to get a feel for the level of competition. There were quite a few "finishers", but I was a "racer". I've done well in races in Singapore, but this was something altogether different. 450kms over 5 days with riders from all over the world.
The weather was hot and dry so I actually felt nice an comfortable coming from hot & humid Singapore. Advantage: Greg. But it was my first stage race. Advantage: everyone else who had done a stage race before.
Day one started with some pomp & circumstance at the royal palace followed by over 300 mountain bikes and riders lining up at the start line. The president himself did the countdown. Either my adrenaline slowed down my perception of time, or Mr. President counted back from 10 seconds very slowly.
And they're off! The Timor-Leste teams were given pole positions, but everyone was vying for position from the start. I decided to move out of the pack and take a short stint at the front. I surged about 20 meters ahead of the leader and enjoyed the view from the front. I'm glad I did it because we soon hit a hill and the leaders showed their true colors. Adios Amigos.
One rider broke his pelvis on the first downhill and I can see why. Steep hills, sharp curves, cliffs and incognito potholes make a recipe for injury. But we had incredible views of the coast for hours. Two more big hills and some vast, arid no-man's land followed. In the end I dragged a gal from the Malaysian team and a Timorese rider a few kms until gravity absolutely flung me downhill to the finish line.
We were greeted, as in every village, by hundreds of cheering villagers. After a quick swim, I had a massage and we set up camp for the night. It was a great first day.