Maseru – The seventh edition of the Lesotho Sky Race is done and dusted.
The annual six-day mountain bike (MTB) race, which successfully ran from last Monday until Saturday, has become one of the foremost events in Lesotho’s sports calendar attracting top riders from around the world.
A race that started off with only 22 riders in 2011 has grown into a major event with about 90 riders having competed this year and, because of its progress, the Lesotho Sky is now categorised as a ‘Class One’ competition by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
The Lesotho Sky, which runs from Ha Ramabanta to Semonkong, has also become a driver of tourism in the country attracting riders from as far as Switzerland.
This week thepost caught up with the founder and brains behind the ever-growing race, Christian Schmidt.
He discussed the successes of the race, the challenges of putting together such a big event and its future.
When you started the Lesotho Sky Race in 2011, did you anticipate it would grow into such a big event in Lesotho’s sports calendar?
When we started the Lesotho Sky I knew very little about Lesotho’s sport industry and about the tourism industry. But, as a typical entrepreneur, you want to do something even if you do not have much of an idea because you have passion for it or because you believe it’s going to work. That is what guided us in the first year.
I knew Lesotho because I went to primary school here but I hadn’t done business in Lesotho. I didn’t know the work environment. So, certainly, no; we did not anticipate the event growing to what it is now. Now after the seventh edition we are very excited and we are always looking for new partners – for example, Black Mix Media – and how can we grow this further.
What has been the experience so far and what are the challenges of organising and putting together such a big event?
Every year the event has grown a little bit. Being able to accommodate more people is quite a challenge in terms of finding accommodation for 130 people. So because of that we already have some participants sleeping in tents, others stay in the lodge. The lodge entries usually sell out quickly because people prefer to sleep in a bed as opposed to a tent. But, realistically, the event can only grow with people staying in tents because the bigger accommodation facilities are based in Maseru. The more rural you go, the fewer accommodation facilities there are.
What would you say has been the biggest lesson when organising this race for the past few years?
Expect the unexpected; something can always happen. This year, for example, one challenge was the political situation in Lesotho before the start of the event. Unfortunately, this was not the first time. In 2014 there was also political instability and a lot of riders emailed us asking ‘hey, is it safe to travel to Lesotho?’ because they were not sure of the situation. We were put in a position of having to explain that it is actually safe for ordinary people and what is happening is happening within the military. But it is certainly a challenge with regards to the reputation of Lesotho. Some people do get scared by negative headlines.
Where does the Lesotho Sky rank among other mountain bike (MTB) events in the continent now?
There are about ten UCI MTB events in Africa (every year). Lesotho Sky is the only one in Lesotho, there are three in South Africa and the rest are in other parts of Africa. There are three types of UCI MTB events, as in, three classes. We started as a Class Two event and now we have become a Class One event.
Despite attracting top riders, there still few women participating in the Lesotho Sky, why is that?
I think if we look at cycling as a sport in the world, there is a lot of women who ride and race but there are definitely more men. I think if I have to take a guess about 10 percent of professional athletes in cycling in the world are female. This year we had seven women (at the Lesotho Sky) and six of them completed the race, unlike for men where we had about 90 entrants of which only 70 finished (the race). Last year we had about 10 ladies and they all finished, so it is up and down. Last year we also had the first Mosotho lady (Likeleli Masitise) racing. She completed the race but unfortunately she was not able to race this year because she was attending another event in South Africa.
What are the important things that you consider when finding the appropriate course routes and how do you manage the course?
I think the most important part when it comes to the routes is the community work. So in order for the routes to be safe and to be accessible, we go to every single village and meet the chiefs and we inform them about the event. We tell them ‘on this day we will have cyclists passing through, do we have your permission?’ And then again during the race we have community marshals with Vodacom (Lesotho) cell-phones so in the event that something happens, they can call our chief marshal and we can coordinate a rescue. So community work is very important and then of course the hospitality; where can we stay, where can we accommodate the riders and the crew. This year there was about 130 people – riders and crew together – so we need to be able to cater for them. They need to have enough beds and tents.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about Lesotho Sky?
Lesotho Sky is a platform for athletes from around the world and Lesotho to meet, so a lot of international riders are surprised because some of them wouldn’t have heard of Lesotho and they are surprised to find such beautiful mountains and such challenging terrain. At the same time they are also surprised to meet such good riders from Lesotho. As we have seen, Team Vodacom Lesotho came in second place so this is something we are proud of – bringing good athletes together and also showing that we as Lesotho we can compete on the world level.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
I am proud of having been able to host this event for seven years despite many challenges. This year I think the main challenge was the weather. We had snow, we had rain, we had lots of mud and there was lightning so one of the stages – the Roma loop – had to be cancelled. Every year I think the challenges have been different. We have learnt from past mistakes and we have fixed them but every year there is a new challenge. Despite the challenges we are very proud that this event has happened for seven years in a row and we hope it happens for another 70.
No Mosotho has won the Lesotho Sky before, why is that? What is it that we are not doing right?
I think second place says a lot. Basotho riders won one stage of the event this year, the final stage was won by Team Vodacom. Last year the Malea-lea loop was won by Team Vodacom. I think Basotho cyclists are strong; they have the potential to train and to ride on a world level like some of the cyclists that attended this year. It is tough, it requires resources, it requires a strict training regime, it requires equipment and those are the areas where we are trying to get sponsors involved. We work together with the ACE The Sufferfest Lesotho MTB team. They have their own sponsors for equipment because cycling is not a cheap sport. The equipment costs a lot of money; so, yes, this is certainly an area where we need to optimise.
If you could go back to 2011 and give yourself one piece of advice when organising your first event, what would it be and why?
Expect the unexpected, and don’t worry about the things you cannot change and try ignore the things you cannot.
Where do you see Lesotho Sky in the next 10 years?
I see Lesotho Sky being an event and brand that promotes Lesotho and that promotes the best parts of Lesotho. The event is limited in size, it is already sold out. So what we want to do is to bring the riders for tourism purposes throughout the year which we already do but I think we can do a lot more. My opinion of Lesotho tourism in general is we are doing well. Lesotho is known all over the world for motorbikes with the Roof of Africa race and for hiking. But we can do a lot better and I hope that Lesotho Sky will be a brand and an event that promotes Lesotho beyond the race and brings thousands of riders, even beginners, to come explore and get to know Lesotho.
Rabale eyes Champions League glory
Lesotho women’s team captain Boitumelo Rabale has her eyes on winning her second CAF Women’s Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns as the tournament gets underway this weekend.
The third edition of the prestigious women’s club football is scheduled for Ivory Coast from November 5-19, where eight clubs will battle it out to be crowned Queens of the continent.
“Queen”, as the Lesotho star is commonly known, was part of the Sundowns squad that was crowned champions of the inaugural edition of the tournament held in Egypt two years ago, becoming the first player from the Mountain Kingdom to taste Champions League success.
She has become one of the key players in Jerry Tshabalala’s squad having walked away with the Hollywoodbets Player of the Season in the previous campaign and currently leads the goal-scoring charts with 21 goals.
“It was exciting to win the CAF Women’s Champions League with Sundowns two years ago and in the process becoming the first player from Lesotho to do so,” Rabale said.
“I felt very lucky and honoured to make history. It gave me confidence to continue working hard and strive for more success with the club”
Sundowns head to the tournament as regional champions after clinching the COSAFA qualifiers to qualify for the continental showpiece, where they will kickstart their campaign against Tanzania’s JKT Queens on Sunday.
Rabale admitted that memories of losing the last final to AS FAR still haunts them, but they head to Ivory Coast a better team than in the last tournament.
“We learnt the hard way when we lost in the final to AS FAR and we come back a better team having rectified our mistakes.
“It’s our dream to conquer the continent again and I have no doubt that we have what it takes to get our second star in Ivory Coast.
“It will be very good to add the second CAF Champions League medal to my trophy cabinet,” she said.
The 27-year-old has been prolific for Sundowns this campaign having scored nine goals in her last five matches to take her tally for this campaign to 21 goals.
Sundowns are in Group A alongside tournament hosts, Athletico Abidjan, Sporting Casablanca of Morocco, as well as Tanzania’s JKT Queen.
Since joining Sundowns in 2021, Rabale has won the Hollywoodbets Super League twice, the COSAFA Zonal qualifiers twice as well as the CAF Women’s Champions League and is the reigning Hollywoodbets Player of the season.
Red Skins fail to raise funds for championship
Lesotho volleyball giants Red Skins have failed to raise funds for the 2023 Zone 6 Senior Indoor Volleyball Club Championship they are set to host in December.
Red Skins will host the competition together with four other local volleyball clubs – Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Station (LMPS) and Rivers – and the tournament is expected to start on December 7 and end 10 days later.
Without any funds or sponsors coming in, Red Skins will have to foot the bill from their pockets for the tournament which will see teams from 10 countries converge on Maseru.
Among the participating nations, Botswana is expected to bring the biggest contingent with 12 teams, with Zambia following closely behind with nine teams while Zimbabwe is set to be represented by six teams.
Two weeks ago, Red Skins participated in the Elite Cup in Gauteng, South Africa, which was hosted by Aqua Darshan Volleyball.
Red Skins hoped to win the tournament and return home with a hefty jackpot but they only collected M5 000 which was won by the men’s team.
A gala dinner that Red Skins hosted last weekend also failed to generate income due to low attendance and speaking to thepost on Tuesday, the club’s vice-captain, Moleboheng Mofolo, said they will have to push on with what they have to host the tournament.
Mofolo said they no longer have time to come up with other means to raise funds.
“Tournaments will require us to find sponsorships and we do not have time now, we have to focus and train well,” Mofolo said.
“Our coach already told us to camp from this week but rain is our biggest challenge because we cannot continue with the training,” she added.
Mofolo said Red Skins are fortunate that participating teams are going to take care of their accommodation and catering. She said if Red Skins had to provide those services, they would not have been able to manage.
She pleaded with individuals, organisations and companies to help the team, whether it is by offering accommodation, food, or whatever little they may have.
Giants avoid each other in Top 4 clash
Women Super League (WSL) giants Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies and Kick4Life Ladies have avoided each other in the WSL Top 4 knockout competition.
The two-day showpiece takes centre stage this weekend at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena and it will see last season’s top four finishers in the league – LDF, Kick4Life, Lijabatho and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Ladies – go head-to-head for bragging rights.
The draw for the competition took place last Friday and the semi-finals will see LDF go up against Lijabatho while Kick4Life will take on LMPS Ladies.
Both semi-finals will be played on Saturday with the tournament culminating the following day.
Sunday’s proceedings will kick-off with a third-place playoff game to determine who walks away with the bronze medals before the final later in the day.
All four games over the two days will be streamed on the FIFA+ website and the WSL Top 4 will usher in a new sponsor this year.
In the past, the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) fully bankrolled the competition, however, Computer Business Solutions (CBS) has come on board with a sponsorship for the first time.
The competition’s prize monies have not been revealed because they are still being finalised, but, speaking at last Friday’s draw, LEFA’s associations secretary general, Mokhosi Mohapi, said the relationship with CBS is one that sport should engage in.
Mohapi added his hopes that the relationship will be a long-term one.
“While others are busy at their thing, we should really grow ours so that when their distraction finally ends, they find us as united as we can be as the football community,” Mohapi said.
“(We should be) united by the efforts and inputs that emanate from the business community, especially when it is a truly Lesotho business entity because other (foreign entities) are here to take money,” he said.
Addressing CBS as the tournament’s sponsor, Mohapi said: “We are thankful as LEFA for your initiative; (we) hope you will be in this marriage quite long. We know we are just testing the waters but we have a lot that can entice you to stay longer, not only my command but the instruments that we have.”
Mohapi said LEFA’s dream is that in two years’ time all league matches will be streaming on the FIFA+ platform which was launched last April by football’s world governing body to increase exposure of men and women’s football around the globe.
Currently, only three grounds in the country have the structures for broadcasting; Bambatha as well as the grounds at LDF and Lesotho Correctional Service grounds, and all are in Maseru.
LEFA plans to add more grounds to the list with the DIFA facilities in Maputsoe and Mohale’s Hoek set to be the first to follow suit.
“All our women’s competitions, cup competitions and (Vodacom) Premier League matches that will be played in those stadia that have our infrastructure – we will be able to stream those games internationally,” Mohapi said.
“We have extended our footprint,” he added.
“We are now doing LDF – we have already put up the structure – then we are moving to Maputsoe and, hopefully, Mohale’s Hoek. It is our desire that in two years’ time we will hopefully cover all the matches and put them on the FIFA+ streaming platform.”
WSL Top 4 fixtures:
Lijabatho Ladies vs. LDF Ladies
LMPS Ladies vs. Kick4Life Ladies
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