The International Cycling Union (UCI) published the list of teams which qualified for UCI MTB Team status in 2014 on February 7. For the first time, Lesotho and New Zealand are fielding such squads.
The ACE -The Sufferfest - Lesotho MTB Team - powered by Unitrans is also the first black African team to achieve such status. The team aims to take on internationally accredited races in Southern Africa, featuring a cross country World Cup event and marathon world championships. Interspersed will be races from the UCI World Marathon Series and Southern African MTB Cup Series, which includes the first ever Class 1 cross country event and downhill event in Lesotho’s history. The team will also be targeting the fast-emerging Lesotho Sky UCI class 2 stage race later in the year.
The UCI MTB Team status builds on an historic season in 2013, when Lesotho presented its first team at a world championships and managed to reach the lofty heights of 30th rank in UCI rankings (second in Africa). The team realized its riders have undoubted passion and potential but were lacking in organisation and exposure to regular international competition.
ACE stands for Academy of Cycling Excellence and is all about taking the sport of cycling in Lesotho to the next level and developing for the future. The team is providing an opportunity for Lesotho riders to showcase their talents and gain vital experience on the biggest mountain bike races in the region. In so doing, the team will be improving the standard of cycling throughout the nation and building towards a bright future for aspiring cyclists.
The team is starting from rock-bottom. Only three of its riders have reasonably decent bikes, whereas the others have to make do with old bone-shakers for training and borrow bikes for competition. Likeleli, Lesotho's women's national champion, has had to make do with stationary bike training in a local gym for the past six weeks, after her treasured bike was stolen on Christmas Day.
The team members all have used cycling as a vehicle to overcome the misery of poverty and find hope and focus through the sport. The team has an average age of just 21 years and includes three riders who are complete orphans and two who live with elderly grandparents. They have shone brightly in local events and have merited their inclusion in the team.
ACE -The Sufferfest - Lesotho MTB Team
Phetetso Monese, 29, is the current Lesotho national champion in marathon is the highest ranked black African rider on the UCI rankings.
Teboho Khantsi, 23, is a road rider who has taken to mountain bike racing. He is also a development rider with World Cycling Centre Africa.
Likeleli Masitise, 21, has only recently taken up cycling seriously. She won the Lesotho mountain bike national championships for the past two years, but has not yet competed outside of the country.
Lichaba West, 19, has been a consistent performer in the junior category, unbeaten in the Lesotho national championships and ranking well in international MTB competitions. This year he is taking the big step up to under 23 category.
ACE -The Sufferfest - Lesotho MTB Team Development Team
Tseko Shelile, 20, was the youngest rider to compete the gruelling Lesotho Sky mountain bike stage race in 2013 and has set his sights on a great season in 2014.
Moeketsi Senohe, 20, is from the southern region of Lesotho and despite his tender years, has developed a strong cycling club in his town.
Malefetsane Lesofe , 18, is the leading junior rider in Lesotho. He has raced at the mountain bike world championships and African Championships.
Katleho Manasi, 17, is a first-year junior rider. He showed impressed performance during his youth category years and is aiming to demonstrate his ability in the juniors.