Lesotho cross country national champion Phetetso Monese led his nation to its first-ever participation at a UCI World Championships last weekend at mountain bike Worlds in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
The experience was eye-opening for Monese and his teammates.
"We come from a small country where we have some singletrack," said Monese, who finished 68th in the elite men's cross country race. "We have few technical trails, but most of the time we ride on the singletrack. So what we have learned at these world championships is how to ride technically and also that we need to go back and train more. But we've had a great experience being here."
He also noted that he and his teammates are not full-time athletes like many of the participants at Worlds. It makes it hard for them to get in as much training and racing as they'd need to be competitive.
Monese especially enjoyed the downhills at Worlds and promised that he would return to Lesotho and share what he'd learned from his experience.
"This, of course, changed our lives. We are looking forward to being one of the heroes that hopefully some of the young stars in Lesotho can copy. I will go back home and try and use these memories to show young riders how to do this type of training."
Out on course, the racers from Lesotho, many of whom were riding equipment that was obviously not as good as that of their counterparts, got the loudest cheers from the spectators after the South African racers.
Lesotho is a nation fully surrounded by South Africa, and its nearest neighbors proved very supportive of the efforts of Lesotho's racers.
The entire Lesotho team almost didn't make it to the Worlds, despite the proximity, due to last minute funding issues.
After an Oakley Performance Sports Marketing Director Cuan Petersen, formerly of South Africa, saw an article about the team on Cyclingnews, he asked his company to help.
"I grew up here and fully understand the limitations of sport and getting to events for a lot of athletes. I'm familiar with Lesotho and how poor of a nation it is," said Petersen, who has spent time in Lesotho. "It seemed so unfair that they were so close to going to a world championship so close to their home country and yet they couldn't afford the money to get there. I felt like it was important for us at Oakley to step in and support them."
Monese was grateful for that support. "We've been struggling for so long, for many years, with sponsors. We have riders with such passion. We have talented Basotho riders, but we struggle to get to real competitions in South Africa or overseas. The importance of riding in those races is that we can increase our performance. We've been struggling for many years so we are so proud to be here and without Oakley, we wouldn't even be here."
"We weren't even aware of the word 'Oakley', or the company Oakley. And now we are aware through the support that they have given us to be able to come to the world championships."