The small African nation of Lesotho is aiming to send its first-ever team to a world championships. The nation has named a total of seven riders to the squad for the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa starting on August 26.
"The seven athletes have earned their place by consistently high results in the country and outside. They have outperformed everyone else in the national championships. Lesotho is ranked 43rd in UCI rankings - third of African nations and all the riders in our team are ranked in UCI cross country rankings," said Mark West of Lesotho Cycling to Cyclingnews.
Unfortunately for the riders, their attendance at Worlds may be jeopardized by a lack of funding.
"We recently heard devastating news - that some of our funding for the MTB World Championships has fallen through and now we are desperately trying to secure more funding," said West. "We have been granted an allocation for up to five out of the seven riders through our National Olympic Committee programmes, but we do not feel it is fair to leave the other two selected riders out of the team after training and dreaming for so long."
The country's national federation runs on an annual budget of $6000, and while political wrangling has temporarily tied up those funds, West said his group has not been deterred from holding a full calendar of races and events throughout the season.
"Unfortunately, the cost to send the additional riders to world champs - although small compared to other national federation budgets - is well beyond us," said West.
"The team riders themselves are from very poor backgrounds. Some have dropped out of school because parents could not afford school fees, and others are self-employed trying to eke out a living for themselves and their families. The Worlds are only 'round the corner in South Africa, but it might as well be on the other side of the world... you can imagine our dilemma."
Team Lesotho MTB is spearheaded by 2013 marathon national champion Phetetso Monese, who has recently signed a sponsorship deal with Giant. Phetetso is also an accomplished cross country rider and aims to maintain his position as the highest ranked black African rider in the UCI World Rankings.
Another of the team leaders holds a unique record. Tumisang Taabe is currently the cross country national champion and the President of the National Federation at the same time. It will be his first time to race at this high level, but "Tumi" is sure to make a mark.
In the junior division, Lichaba West, hopes to put all his experience from schooling and racing in the UK to good use. He has been training with the South African Junior Team on the Cascades cross country course and has managed to master most of the technical obstacles, such as Shaka's Playground and Treehouse, that are likely to induce fear into the rest of the team, according to West, when they see them for the first time at the Worlds.
Lesotho National Team for the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships