Hundreds of people lined the streets of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, today to cheer the start of the second-ever Tour de Timor, a five-day mountain bike race in which more than 360 riders – including 10 United Nations staff members – from 20 countries are taking part.
During the 420-kilometre race, riders will explore the western half of the fledgling South-East Asian nation, which the UN shepherded to independence in 2002. Last year’s race focused on the east of the country.
Today’s 124-kilometre leg, which included flat paved roads as well as mountainous, difficult terrain, began outside the presidential palace in Dili and ended in the historic town of Balibo. During the course of the race the cyclists will climb from sea level to an elevation of more than 1,800 metres at one point.
This year, 70 Timorese riders are taking part in the race, up from 20 last year, with many members of the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) taking part. Sixty-four women are among the competitors.
For its part, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMIT) has provided logistical support, including shipping cargo from Australia, transporting tents and other supplies for participants at each stage of the race, and helping to operate a so-called ‘sag wagon’ to pick up riders unable to complete the contest.
At the camping sites where racers rest every evening, UNMIT is also providing water, lights, power generators and an ambulance.
Outreach staff from the mission visited villages along the race route in recent days to promote awareness about the event, and the UN and the PNTL are jointly providing security and escorts for competitors and organizers.