Does the Lesotho National Champion Have What It Takes to Compete Against the best in the World?

Many Sufferlandrians have been asking for an update on Likeleli who has been invited to join a Women’s Development at the World Cycling Centre Africa in South Africa.

Likeleli (or Lily as she is now affectionately called at the WCC) is the young girl that we organised a fundraiser for in 2014.  Thanks to your generosity we were able to “sell” over a hundred team jerseys and as a result we were able to buy Lily a new bike to replace her stolen one and also buy eight bikes to boost a new local girls’ cycling club.

The first week at the WCC has been a baptism of fire for Lily.  She actually missed the first four days of training due to a delay in getting a visa and … let’s just say that a high performance camp with some of the strongest women riders on the continent trying to impress the coach is not the best place to sit on a road bike for the very first time in one’s life. 

Lily is the only specialist mountain biker at the camp and although she has proved herself on the MTB trails, she is experiencing this level of cycling for the first time.  Most (if not all) the other hand-picked women have been part of the two previous women’s camps held at the WCC Africa over the past twelve months.  Within a few days, Lily was in tears pleading to come back home. 

One thing I know about Likeleli is that behind her delicate appearance is a woman that has already overcome so many obstacles in life to get to where she is today.  I knew that giving up was not an option and deep down this is just the experience that she needs.  Suffering doesn’t just happen on the turbo-trainer following a Sufferfest workout - what the ‘Fest has taught us is that suffering is a necessary ingredient for success.

Life has not been easy for Lily.  She lost both her parents as a child and in a country without any welfare (social security) system this meant many years of poverty, deprivation and even hunger.  This did not stop her from striving to reach her dream to become a competitive cyclist.

I first met her as an 18 year old girl winning the national championships in her home town of Mohale’s Hoek on her very first attempt.  She crossed the line absolutely exhausted.  At the time I thought it was a one-off, but she has since been unbeaten and retained her title for four years in a row.  Not only that, but as part of the ACE-The Sufferfest MTB Team she has finished in the top five (which earns a place on the podium in MTB) at two UCI Class 1 races in South Africa.  She has become a role-model for girls in Lesotho and this opportunity at the WCC is one more “first” for Africa’s tiny Mountain Kingdom.

Since her first shaky ride at the WCC and a couple of lonely rides back to the Centre after getting dropped, we have received reports that Lily is improving and really getting stronger by the day.  She still has three weeks remaining at the camp and she will come back a different rider.  We don’t know whether the High Performance testing and training will reveal her to be a potential champion and open the door for future WCC camps or if this will be the end of her short career on the road.  One thing we are sure of is that we are very proud of Likeleli and she is a trailblazer for a future generation of Lesotho women cyclists. 

UPDATE APRIL 2nd: She stuck it out and the camp worked!!!! Riding against professional riders, Likeleli just finished 8th in the African Continental MTB Championships. Her result has helped take Lesotho to 35th in the World Rankings.

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. 

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