By Neda Vanovac
More than 150 international and Timorese riders have set out to conquer one of Asia's most gruelling mountain bike races as the seventh annual Tour de Timor gets under way.
And as riders tough it out over the five-day race winding around the island, a team of volunteer Australian doctors will be travelling alongside them, undertaking training for deployment to a regional disaster zone.
The National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre is based in Darwin, training doctors to respond to regional crises such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and the Pakistan floods.
As well as providing the riders with medical support, the team members test themselves as the race challenges logistics, equipment, processes and how the medical staff cope in a stressful situation where there are limited resources and support.
"The bike riders will be riding their bikes up steep, narrow, bumpy roads," Dr Philippa Binns said.
"It's hot, it's dusty, people will be physically stressed, with heat stress, and as for the staff supporting them, we'll be out in the dust and the heat ourselves, camping every night.
"It will be a great way to test ourselves for a deployment to a real disaster but without all that overlay of what comes with a real disaster."
The biggest problem for the riders is heat exhaustion and dehydration, as well as diarrhoea, grazes and broken bones.
David Lyons, a police officer from Queensland, has participated in the race every year but one since then president Jose Ramos-Horta launched it in 2009 as a peace-building exercise.
He said the cyclist numbers had dropped off from a peak of more than 400 in the early years because the Timor Leste government had not been marketing the event properly since it took it over in 2013.
"It's a shame the Government don't appreciate how connected it is to the country's economy," Mr Lyons said.
"We had the exposure, it was on the news, you got 300 foreigners here spending money and then going back to where they were from talking to their friends about it."
Mr Lyons said he loved the physical challenge of the race.
"I plan to do it every year. It keeps me motivated to keep training all year round," he said.
"It's pretty tough. There's the ride and you've also got to do the setting up tents every day, washing in cold water buckets and that sort of thing.
"It can be quite mentally draining ... At the end it's quite satisfying to have concluded it."