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The development of cycling sport in Lesotho

We’ve all heard it before: Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an extremely high HIV-infection rate, stuck in poverty and a very low life expectancy. But did you know that Lesotho is ranked 2nd in Africa in cycling? And did you know that 2 out the world’s best 200 cyclists come from Lesotho?

Phetetso Monese (currently ranked 127th) and Teboho Khantsi (currently ranked 157th) in were again represented at the 4th edition of the Lesotho Sky Race and yet again impressed with an outstanding performance, which included the winning of the 4th stage also known as the Malealea Monster loop and a well deserved 2nd overall standing. Before the Lesotho Sky both returned from representing Lesotho at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where they competed successfully against some of the best riders in the world.

Since it’s 2013 edition, the Lesotho Sky Event is affiliated to the International Cycling Union (UCI), the governing body for cycling sports in the world. All Basotho riders which have qualified for the race can now earn UCI points, which help them to improve their personal, but also their country’s ranking. It is due to this development that Lesotho recently overtook Namibia and is now ranked 2nd in Africa, behind South Africa in the Mountain Biking category. Globally Lesotho is ranked 31st, ahead of countries like Greece, Denmark and Finland. Leading the charts internationally are Switzerland, Germany and France. “Lesotho Cycling would have never been able to achieve such improvements of our rankings in such a short amount of time, without the Lesotho Sky Race” is a statement made by the proud President of the Lesotho Cycling Association (LeCA) Sehaole Mpopo. “We thank the organisers Christian Schmidt and Darol Howes for making this possible. We now have two important ingredients to success in Lesotho: talented and motivated riders on the one hand and sponsors that help us take our sport to the next level”.

As a comparison Lesotho is ranked 105th in the world in football and 125th in athletics, which means cycling already is ranked higher than the most popular sporting codes in Lesotho.

But what does this actually mean for individual riders in Lesotho and how does the Lesotho Sky Race support them in their day-to-day training activities?

Since our first race in 2011 we have invited Basotho teams to take part in the Lesotho Sky Race. Their participation is entirely sponsored by our team sponsors, all of them businesses originating and/or operating in Lesotho. In the 2014 edition we hosted 7 teams or 14 riders from Lesotho. In order to qualify for a fully sponsored entry, riders have to compete in a series of locally hosted cycling events, of which we then take their top-3 results:

1) National MTB Championships 2) Morija MTB Challenge 3) Malealea Monster MTB Challenge 4) Lesotho Sky Event in the previous year 5) Lesotho Sky Qualification race in Maseru

These cycling events are either organised by us or we offer our help to the organisers in ensuring that the race will be a success i.t.o. logistics, route marking, registration and time keeping. The last qualification event takes place in June. Then the best 7 riders are will be given a few days to select their preferred partner for the race. The qualification procedure is completed in mid June and then starts the hard 3-months training period for the upcoming Lesotho Sky Race at the end of September.

These top Basotho athletes in turn inspire countless young riders and aspiring cyclists in Lesotho to try harder and to stay focussed and committed to the sport. The level of competition has increased every year and Lesotho Sky is proud to play a role in this movement. 2014 was the birth year of Lesotho’s first professional MTB team, also known as ACE-The Sufferfest Lesotho MTB Team:

ACE Lesotho MTB Team is a UCI MTB Team with a difference. The purpose of the team is to identify cycling talent from the developing nations of Africa, particularly Lesotho and give those riders an opportunity to cycle on the world’s biggest MTB stages. They have a proven record of seeing young riders aspiring to big dreams, developing self-confidence and rising above the poverty and hopelessness that they were born into. Four of the 2014 team members have lost either one or both parents, which is not uncommon in a country with such a high HIV/AIDS rate. The ACE-Team is not another charity cause, but instead positioned as bridging the gap between social upliftment and a Pro Team endorsement.

Lesotho has great potential to produce good MTB riders. Its high altitude, mountain topography and climate reminds many of Colorado US and Switzerland in Europe. Its people can be compared to Columbians with a good power to rate ratio and natural VO2 max. There is justified optimism to believe that Lesotho can produce world class athletes in the future if given the right support.

Cycling sport has come a long way in Lesotho and yet we are still beginning to understand and develop the full potential of our beloved sport here in the #MountainBikeKingdom, as we have affectionately reinvented the name Lesotho is also known for in the world, the Mountain Kingdom.

We are exited to tell you about more our journey in this publication and we invite you to roll along and enjoy riding and exploring Lesotho as often as you can.

Thank you for your support.

Christian Schmidt

Founder Lesotho Sky

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