They Doubted We Could Do It. Here's How We Proved Them Wrong...
Throughout history, the Basotho nation - indigenous to Lesotho - has become renowned as very industrious and resourceful. Their very survival in the middle of South Africa, has been based on forging key alliances with the right people to help at the right time.
We believe that this same resourcefulness is what helps us as a team survive in the brutal domain of UCI Pro Teams. The ACE-The Sufferfest Lesotho MTB Team is the the only African UCI registered MTB Team and have only a fraction of the budget of other teams. There’s not much we could do to survive by ourselves, but by forging key alliances with #DreamMakers like The Sufferfest, we have managed to lift ourselves to the mid-point of the UCI Rankings and our holding our own at rank 43 out of 87 ranked UCI MTB Teams at the moment.
However, our ambition is not just limited to incursions in the world of UCI Pro Teams. When the Federation of Cycling Lesotho was awarded the hosting of the 2016 African Continental Mountainbike Championships right here in the tiny Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, they approached us to help with the organising of the event.
We have hosted international-level MTB competitions in Lesotho before, but moving up to UCI monitored Continental Championships was a much bigger step than we had ever imagined. The UCI appointed a Technical Delegate, Chief Commissaire and Doping Control Officer – all of which came with lists of requirements to be fulfilled and the likelihood of a spiralling budget.
We had previously assumed that securing funding for such a great project would be easy, but it certainly was not. Perhaps the plan was too ambitious? Whatever the obstruction was - despite making presentations to government departments and the business sector, we failed to secure any funding for the event. We were faced with the very real prospect of cancelation, but decided instead to push ahead with the Championships.
So how did we manage? We forged strategic alliances with people who could make it happen for us. We secured the services of the best timing system in South Africa who were willing to offer their service pro bono if necessary. We engaged Emergency evacuation and first aid services at cost. We negotiated with the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation for assistance. We somehow managed to get the African Cycling Confederation to make and send bespoke champion jerseys and medals for the event.
And the outcome? We successfully hosted the most diverse and inclusive African Continental Mountain Bike Championships ever! We welcomed over 200 entries from ten different African nations. We presented a full programme of MTB disciplines from Cross-Country and Marathon, to Downhill, Enduro and Team Relay. When the Minister of Sport came to officially open the event, instead of an embarrassing failure – he was greeted by a whole range of officials from other countries congratulating him on such a successful event. As a result, the government has pledged the funding needed to settle all our outstanding accounts (approx. $20,000).
In the process, we were able to give our riders an opportunity to face the best riders from the Continent with home advantage. It has been such a confidence boost to see the great team results and to realise that their country is able to put on such a great event. If we can do this – then we can do anything! Our team scooped the silver medal in the Team Relay event, Phetetso Monese won a bronze medal in the Marathon event and Likeleli, Phetetso and Tumelo all scored a top 10 results in the Elite women, elite men and under 23 men respectively.
As we go forward as a team, we are already envisaging a bright future. We know we can achieve the ‘impossible’ because we have the support of The Sufferfest and the Sufferlandrian Community – no team could ask for a more BADASS and passionate group of people!
The Sufferfest is the principal sponsor of the ACE-The Sufferfest MTB Team, based in Lesotho. Team Manager Mark West will be updating us every month with an inside look at this underdog team. Words and photos by Mark West.