I didn't actually prepare that well. The only long rides I did were one to Baucau (130km, which just about killed me, there were multiple times I felt like I was going to cry), one to Manatuto (70km) and one to Gleno (30km, but most of it is up a big hill). Other than that I rode up to Dare (20km up and then down a big hill) a couple of times and to Cristo Rei (20km on the flat) a few times a week in the mornings. Other than that I did a bit of basketball, frisbee and yoga.
And, the verdict: easier than I expected... It was certainly tough, I don't want to undersell it. Spending over 23 hours on a bike in 5 days is no cakewalk, but it was certainly easier than a weekend frisbee tournament, or even a one day footy tournament. I suppose it's also a matter of knowing how to push yourself through the pain barrier. When I hit the barrier, I just slowed down...
Overall, I finished in the top half of the pack. I did better than I probably should have on the first day because so many really excellent cyclists were just dying in the heat and that was enough to keep me in the top half until the end. My fastest day by far was the fifth day, but I got two flat tyres halfway through and lost at least 20 minutes while I snapped my tyre iron and puzzled over why my brand new tube wasn't inflating (big hole in it right out of the box). The people I was riding with on that day ended up coming in the high-80s. Oh well, considering I hadn't had a single mechanical issue or crash the whole race, I was probably due for some karmic payback... My team-mate, who I had been riding with most days, broke a spoke on the fourth day, and other people had had run-ins with dogs, potholes and wash-outs, so I should count myself lucky.
Before anyone gets too dismissive of my average speeds, in my defence, the terrain was pretty rough, and some of it was actually proper mountain biking, crossing rivers and whatnot. The people in the top pack called the fourth day, where we climbed from sea level to 2000m and then back down to 1800m "the toughest climb I've ever done." Of course, they did it in just over half the time it took me, do that's not terribly surprising...
Health-wise, I felt really good the whole race too. My wrists and back were getting pretty sore by the last day, but my legs felt good the whole time. No digestive issues, other than getting really, really sick of all the sugar from the GUs, Gatorade and power-bars... I had a bit of a headache - most likely from the heat - after days 1 and 3, but I felt good at the end of the other days.
The organisers did an absolutely spectacular job. If I really want to think of something to complain about I could say that (i) there was a serious lack of vegetarian food, (ii) the food service was a little slow for one dinner, (iii) the speeches went a little long in Loihonu, and (iv) there weren't enough toilets at Maubisse. That's literally it... Not even counting how quickly they pulled this thing together it was mindblowingly well run. You arrive at the finish line, somebody greets you with a bottle of gatorade and a bottle of water. Your bag is right there, your camp-site is right there. Food, showers, water, physiotherapists, massage therapists and medics are all ready to go. We had a car with us to carry all our stuff and a lot of extra food, but we didn't need it at all. A friend who had been on the Trans-Alp race in Europe said that this was far better run.
And the crowd... The crowds were absolutely incredible... I felt like I was in the Tour de France. I was riding through Manatuto with two Timorese guys and the atmosphere was electric. People were going out of their minds cheering and seemed genuinely ecstatic that all of these international people would come to see their rai. I've got to say I got a little overcome with emotion feeling the love in the air.
So, will I be doing this more often? Well... It was fun and all, but I don't know that I'll be doing it as a regular hobby. It was a beautiful way to see the country and the racing side of it was interesting, but I think I'm more of a team sport guy. I think I'll go back to being a commuter cyclist and if individual races come along that look interesting, are close to me or are otherwise attractive (or all three as this one was) then I'll do a little half-arsed training and enter as I did with this one. I'll also keep cycling as a regular part of my weekly exercise routine, just because it's so different to everything else I do.
This race did certainly open my mind to the idea of cycle-touring. There are lots of places in the world that you can ride around. 100km on a good road is very doable in a day, even if you stop for lunch. This also opened my eyes to the possibility of much longer commutes in Australia, e.g. the 60km from Melbourne to my parents' place.
So, overall, I'll give it a solid 5 stars and highly recommend it to anyone for next year.