The ACE Lesotho MTB team are starting to make waves
06 June 2016
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This is the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, welcome, thanks for downloading, I’m Gerald de Kock. We’re going to be talking the sport of mountain biking, which is why you’ve downloaded no doubt and I hope that you will continue to do so because we’re trying to explore this world that has drawn so many of us onto our bikes. To events and to trails around South Africa and outside of South Africa which is where we’re going to go today in this episode. Because we’re going to be talking about mountain biking in Lesotho.
If you have listened before, you’ve heard about the Lesotho Sky race, but this is a little deeper than that. Because at the recent KAP Sani2c, there was a team of riders from Lesotho. The ACE Lesotho MTB team. I’m going to ask Mark West who is managing the team to just give us a little background. Firstly, Mark, how did the guys get invited to the Sani2c?
Mark West: Well, it was amazing that we’ve been cycling for a number of years, being sponsored by UNITRANS. UNITRANS is one of the companies under the KAP fold. So when our contact Phil Henning heard about the sponsorship, he immediately made provision for our guys to be in the race. For us, it’s been one of our dream races. We’ve always wanted to be part of this race. So it’s like a dream come true for us, to have teams in this race this weekend.
How the ACE Lesotho MTB team was formed
GDK: Give me a background to the team you’ve got here and indeed perhaps the riders who aren’t here, but maybe will be on their way.
MW: The team formed in 2014, as a result of seeing so much potential in riders in Lesotho. We decided to form a team and we registered with the International Cycling Union, the UCI, as an official UCI mountain bike team. This year we’re actually the only team in Africa to have the UCI mountain bike status. To be honest, we concentrate on cross country because cross country is where all the UCI points are formed.
But this time around we thought, well, we have this invite to the Sani2c, let’s give it a go. It’s been great to be here. Apparently for our Lesotho riders, it’s not the climbs which are tough, it’s the flats, they don’t have the power to keep up with the guys on the flats. But the climbs, they’re great. The sweeping downhills, they’re also struggling to manage on that, but it’s great to be here.
GDK: Getting riders to get on bikes and mountain biking in anywhere, it’s tough because there’s so many other distractions. A global game of football is the great attraction, but how are you going about getting riders and where are you drawing them from?
MW: Most of the riders, I find them already on bikes because we don’t have the facilities to be able to start them from scratch. Usually when there’s a race in Lesotho, I look for riders that have a potential. Some of them, in fact most of them have started on very old clapped-out bikes. Sometimes the pedals come off on the way, sometimes the seat post falls off.
But the important thing is just seeing those that have the potential and those who have the great determination to make it in the race. Once I find a rider like that, I try and groom them and try and help them and get them on better equipment and eventually they get through and join the team.
How much racing is on offer in Lesotho?
GDK: How much racings are they getting in Lesotho?
MW: In Lesotho itself, there’s very little racing. For us, the Lesotho Sky once a year, the race is the big focus. But we’re not far from the border and the Free State has some races and our guys usually give the Free Staters a tough time on the local races. Further afield, we end up coming down to KZN quite often for the cross country series. It takes a bit of travelling and sleeping in tents, but we manage to get to quite a few races.
GDK: What’s the age profile of your riders?
MW: Most of our riders are very young, on the table here I have Success who is just 18 years old. Tumelo and Malifitani are both 19 and 20 respectively. Our best rider is, we call him the veteran, he’s 32, but then the other two riders are both in their early 20’s. We have a girl rider who is 23 as well. Most of the riders are young, but we also have some experience in there to help them along the way too.
GDK: You mentioned about the equipment initially, you’ve obviously managed, the sponsorship was able to cover that?
MW: Yes, we got great sponsors in Giant, they give us great prices on bikes. To be honest, we haven’t got enough to cover all of the guys with equipment, we still have to loan bikes and we’re actually renting a bike from Lesotho Cycling Association for Tumelo at the moment.
We also have a nice bike which was sponsored by Axxess, so equipment is tough, but we’re making it and they’re all hard tail, so it’s tough on a race like the Sani2c. But it’s a lot better than where the guys started from, so we’re very thankful.
Trying to help the riders more
GDK: UCI Mountain Bike team, are they full time riding or they have other occupations or other things that they do?
MW: They all have other occupations, in fact just last month we decided to start supporting two of our riders fulltime. We just give them a very basic allowance and already we’re starting to see the fruits of that, being able to concentrate on the riding has made such a difference.
One guy for example, was working so hard in his work that he was not getting any time for training or not even the weekends off for races. But since he’s started being fulltime we’ve seen a big difference. Three of our riders are still in school. So I’m just laughing now because I forgot to write a letter for their teachers, to give them permission to be off. But I’ll sort that out with the school when I get back.
The others are just, it’s difficult because some of our guys are unemployed and it’s difficult to just put food on the table. But whenever we come for a race like this, we give them some pocket money and that helps to feed their families when they get home as well.
GDK: Mark, I’m going to come back to you, I’m going to turn now to Phil Henning who is sitting on the other side here as a representative of the sponsors, UNITRANS. This must be a very rewarding initiative for you guys.
Phil Henning: Well, myself being a cyclist and that as well and being in Lesotho, we’ve got quite a few fuel tankers runners in Lesotho. I met up with Mark and it’s actually very rewarding seeing the guys doing like they’re doing. Mark is playing it down, but he’s doing a lot for these okes.
Like I say, if you just take the guy who was working basically on R1 500 he needs to be able to survive and cycle. Most of the guys don’t have that type of, they don’t get the nutrition that they need and stuff. What they’re doing and where the teams they’re competing against, they’re actually doing brilliantly. Just to see that those okes are actually now getting better and better. But they can do much better with more support. We’re trying our best and that’s why we said, exposure like this will be good.
GDK: It’s fantastic to see them sitting here. We’re sitting in the lunch hall, having just had the ride. So Mark, you’re going to introduce me to the three young men sitting around the table here.
Meet some of the team
MW: Okay, first of all, we have 20 year old Malifitani.
GDK: Malifitani what do you do when you’re not riding the bike, what else are you doing?
Malifitani: I’m just riding bike only, there’s nothing I can do.
GDK: How much training do you do?
Malifitani: I have enough time because I’m always at home, so after 9:00 to 6:00, I have free time to train.
GDK: How many hours a week do you think you train?
Malifitani: I sometimes do four hours, sometimes five, but mostly I do three hours a day.
GDK: Three hours a day. Who is sitting next to you here?
Malifitani: This is Tumelo Makae.
GDK: Tumelo, tell us about your experience here at the KAP Sani2c.
TM: The Sani2c, it has been my dream to be here, to be in races like this one and ja, I’m enjoying it.
GDK: Okay, you and Success are riding together and you are Success. Success, who is your partner?
GDK: What have you enjoyed most about this ride?
Success: Long distance, I didn’t do the long distance before, but now I’m trying to do it.
GDK: What is your goal in mountain biking, what do you want to achieve?
Success: I want to fall under the best top riders in the world.
GDK: And what do you think you have to do to get there?
Success: To train hard, to get more training and that and so on.
Interest is encouraging in Lesotho
GDK: Good luck guys, it’s fantastic to see you all here. Mark, let’s come back to you. Obviously this is a huge growth opportunity, no doubt for the sport in Lesotho. Are there youngsters looking at all these riders thinking, hang on, I want to get on this team now?
MW: Definitely, we’ve got a good bunch of young riders. I’ve already got my eye on a couple of riders that I want to sign on the team as juniors next year. They were a bit young this year to join, but certainly these guys are really inspirational to many youngsters in Lesotho. We only have the boys here. We have a young lady who is also an inspiration to girls in Lesotho as well. So hopefully, as a result of them, we’ll see a lot more young boys and girls getting into mountain biking and cycling.
GDK: Success says he wants to be amongst the best in the world, what’s the next step for the team and for these young men?
MW: It’s a gradual process, bit by bit we are building up our profile, our UCI points. That’s very important for us because that opens the door for more competition. We were actually very fortunate to have another sponsor in Sigma Sport, it’s a German company that sponsor us with GP devices.
But they are paying for two of our guys to go to Europe later on in the year, they’re going to take part in the UCI World Cup in Switzerland. The following week they’re going to take on the Bike Trans Alp. It’s a big step for these guys and we’re looking forward to it.
GDK: Fantastic and more strength to you all and let’s hope we see you at the races around South Africa very regularly. Mark, congratulations on what you’re doing and good luck in the future with it.
MW: Thank you very much, thank you.
GDK: This is another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast and we’ve been hearing about the ACE Lesotho Mountain Bike team. Hope you’ve enjoyed that and there’ll be plenty more coming on on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. Download and we’ll tell you more fascinating stories about this great sport. Thanks for downloading and until next time, cheers.