Timor hopes to lure visitors with bike tour
East Timor's president has launched the country's first major bike race as part of a push to open up its fledging tourism industry.
The 350-kilometre mountain bike road race will run over five days in the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence.
President Jose Ramos Horta says he is hopeful the Tour de Timor will one day become one of the world's great races.
He says there has been significant progress with security and the race is an important step in developing the country's tourism industry.
"The atmosphere is very friendly. The country is very, very peaceful," he said.
Race organisers say riders will travel through mountainous country, rice fields and along the coastline.
Competitors in the inaugural event, to be held in August, will vie for $US50,000 in prize money.
Sponsorship manager Sean Ferguson-Borrell says it will be a challenging race.
"This race has been a long standing dream of the President, Dr Jose Ramos Horta," he said.
"He's been very keen since 2006 to establish this as a sporting event, not only to open the country's doors to visitors internationally and regionally but also to encourage local participation to really grow."
"The country is unspoilt, very, very untouched, and it's been rarely visited over the last 10 years."
Mr Ferguson-Borrell says international security forces in the country will provide support.
"They'll also be providing medical services. Things like masseurs will be available," he said.