East Timor: discover the latest sporting nation

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East Timor - probably not the first place you'd think of for a diving or cycling holiday, right? Yes, the infrastructure is patchy and the road to independence has had difficult passages, but don't let that put you off exploring this amazing place. It's challenging, but worth it. We spoke with advisers to the President of Timor-Leste to get the latest sporting events scheduled for East Timor, including the Tour de Timor which kicks off today. Here's what they had to say:

Timor-Leste (East Timor), the newest nation in Asia, is characterised by a raw and affectionate energy. Nobel Peace Laureate and President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta says in his welcome to the country: 'It is a land of untouched natural beauty, with spiritual mountain ranges that peak at 10,000 feet; protected primary forests that are reminiscent of a land before time; abundant coral reefs that shelter a wealth of marine mammals; and warm-hearted and hospitable locals whose traditions go back thousands of years old, and who offer every visitor a smile and cup of traditional coffee.'

Where Timor-Leste has really come into its own is as a destination for adventure with international sporting events such as the Tour de Timor and the Dili 'City of Peace' Marathon.

The Tour de Timor (13 to 17 September, 2010) aka the 'World Race for Peace' is a challenging 5-day mountain bike race across the country. It's an exhilarating way to meet the locals and explore rich agricultural lands, spectacular mountains, and coastline studded with Dutch and Portuguese fortsr coastline. And with a prize pool of USD$100,000, it is easily the most lucrative race in the southern hemisphere.

The first Dili City of Peace Marathon was held in June 2010, and was won by Kenyan athlete Philimon Rotich. It was a great success, with participation from athletes from 26 nations around the world and generous collaboration from professionals and experts from the Asia pacific region. It is set to be an even bigger next year, when the second marathon is held in June 2011.

If you prefer water to land, Timor-Leste’s northern coast, along with the islands of Atauro and Jaco, offers diving enthusiasts a pristine underwater wonderland. Hikers are well and truly catered for with the rugged and beautiful Mountains  Matebian and Ramelau, and the historic village of Balibo (subject of the 2009 feature film of the same name) is steeped in Portuguese, Australian and Timorese history.

While you're enjoying the spectacular natural wilderness and the unique cultural attractions, travelling to Timor-Leste has a hidden benefit: money spent by travellers goes a long way towards supporting the local community. Whether you are enjoying a local meal, staying in a guesthouse or shopping for coffee, unique woodcarvings, baskets or Tais (local hand-woven fabric), you will be helping the Timorese people get back on their feet after many decades of hardship.

Races, marathons - these exciting events focus not only on what this nation has to offer; they also signify the peaceful and prosperous future of Timor-Leste.