As part of the celebrations leading up to the 10th anniversary of Timor-Leste’s vote for independence from Indonesia, one man decided to mark the occasion by a holding a mountain bike race with a difference. Covering a distance of 450 km over five stages on rugged roads alongside tropical beaches up through clouds to remote mountain villages, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos-Horta and his team had just three months to pull together the biggest sporting event Timor-Leste has ever seen.
With a prize pool of $USD 75,000, climbing to altitudes of 2000m with some of the most stunning scenery on earth, they wanted to create more than just a race, they created A Race For Peace.
Kona bike riders Ivan Wilson and Dave Turner were fortunate enough to get an exclusive interview with the public face of the Tour de Timor, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta for an up coming feature for Australian Mountain Bike magazine. Here we can see the President proudly holding a Kona Kikapu at the presidential palace in Dili before the race begins.
President Jose Ramos-Horta is a cyclist with a passion for the Tour de France. His connection with pushbikes began as a teenager, and that connection it turns out, is linked to romance. “My love of cycling was out of necessity as a teenager. I had to borrow a bicycle to show off to a girlfriend,” he laughs shuffling in his large leather chair and smiling as he recounts. When this girl found out he didn’t actually own the bike, she snapped, “This bike is not even yours!”.
“It was demoralizing” the President laughs, the romance was short lived but the passion for two wheels continues to this day.
“In two to three years from now we want the Tour de Timor to become an international event” the cool 60 year old President says with determination. “The race will bring visibility to Timor-Leste, we are ready to share the beauty, our people and our landscapes”.
And bring visibility to Timor-Leste the race certainly has. With worldwide media attention, some big name sponsors including Digicel Mobile Communications, a national team of 25 Timorese riders and 280 registered riders from overseas including Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, US, Portugal, Canada and NZ, the Tour de Timor was shaping up to be a great adventure before the starting gun had even been fired.
The rest of this interview and a review of the race will be published by Australian Mountain Bike magazine in the next couple of months, details will be posted here and on www.mushypea.net/blog