Friday, May 27, 2022
HomeInterviewsMark West - the Welshman in Charge of Africa's "Most Exciting" UCI...

Mark West – the Welshman in Charge of Africa’s “Most Exciting” UCI MTB Team!


Mark West MTB Lesotho
Mark West.

When we photographed the National Champion of Lesotho, Phetetso Monese in action at last year’s Commonwealth Games MTB race in Glasgow little did we know that key to his – and the nation’s – burgeoning success was in fact a Welshman, Mark West.

Mark got in touch with us recently to ask if we’d be interested in hearing more about Monese’s country and the background to his appearance on the Cathkin Braes and we jumped at the chance.

Mark has been key to Lesotho’s cycling growth and development since arriving on a temporary work visa over two decades ago, meeting his future wife and adopting – and being adopted by – the country.

As is so often the case in the early period when starting a new team or cycling venture, things didn’t go particularly smoothly with the oft-heard financial and political issues – but these, together with the country’s particularly acute health challenges, make Mark’s story one worth telling.

Mark West Lesotho MTB
Phetetso Monese on the Cathkin Braes in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Photo©Martin Williamson

How did you end up in Lesotho, Mark?

“My affair with Africa all started with a gap year as a teacher in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

“I fell in love with the country (and a young woman who became my wife) and 25 years later I’m still here.

“Lesotho is an intriguing country – completely land-locked by South Africa, but with a completely different (truly African) mindset and culture to their neighbours.

“The people are tough but humble, believing that hard work is more beneficial than waiting for handouts and also looking for opportunities to give a helping hand to those who need it.”

That part of the world has had huge problems with HIV/AIDS…

“Yes, the country was torn apart by the HIV/AIDS epidemic where the average life expectancy dropped to 37 years and many households were left in the hands of children.

“Even today, Lesotho has the 2nd highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world at an estimated 23% of the population.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Mark has dedicated a large part of his life to helping the cyclists of Lesotho.

How did you begin your involvement with the local riders? 

“Whilst still a teacher I had the good fortune to witness one of my learners take part in a cycle race across the border in South Africa.

“He was the only black boy in the race; his bike was old – but well-maintained, nonetheless he won the race.

“I could see from his expression how much it meant to him.

“He was from a poor community, racing against much richer kids but this moment lifted him up above the poverty and gave him an immense sense of self-worth.

“Together with my wife, we went out and bought him a brand new bike and in the following years we watched this poor kid from Maseru grow into a national champion, then compete in the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and become part of the World Cycling Centre African programme.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Katleho “Success” Manasi, the team’s junior rider.
Mark West MTB Lesotho
Malefetsane Lesofe at an urban XC race in Maseru.

And you became involved in the national federation from there? 

“From 2006 – 2014 I served as the Secretary General of the Lesotho Cycling Federation and during that period we affiliated to the UCI.

“We also made a conscious decision to focus more on Mountain Bike than road as the Lesotho terrain was better suited to it and the experience of racing MTB was much more pleasant (let’s just say the South African pro peleton was not very welcoming).”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Phetetso Monese takes the rocks in his stride.

Cycling isn’t the cheapest of sports, how did you finance things?

“The biggest obstacle to progress was always funding.

“The national federation existed on an annual allocation of R50000 (£4000 in those days) for all racing and administration costs and in many cases even that allocation was not available when we needed it.

“This situation came to a head in 2013 when the UCI World MTB Championships were being held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa – just around the corner from us.

“We selected a team, trained very hard and saved money, but when we came to claim our funding from our mother bodies – the full amount was not available.

“I was not ready for some of our riders to miss out so I sent out a few emails and managed to get an article on the US website.

To cut a long story short, people from Oakley read the story, made contact and made everything possible.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
A prouder set of team members we haven’t seen. Here they’re at the UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Mark West MTB Lesotho
The team’s only woman, Likeleli Masitise.

Did this experience change you and your approach with the team?

“Yes, the pain of being in this predicament and of not being in control of our own finances was an important lesson to me.

“I decided things have to change – and so Africa’s first UCI MTB Team, The Sufferfest – ACE Lesotho MTB Team powered by Unitrans was born, with the following mission:

  • To give sponsors something worth investing in.
  • To be in control of our own programme and budget.
  • To give riders a structured race and training programme throughout the year.
  • To be able to invest in proper equipment.

“Right from the start, we received great support from the cycling world – especially from The Sufferfest and Dig Deep Coaching (we actually don’t refer to ‘sponsors’ as such, we call them #DreamMakers).

“The Sufferfest invested much needed cash into the team and Dig Deep Coaching provided coaching advice and important connections – such as Pactimo, who are our custom clothing suppliers.

“We also received support from a local transport company called Unitrans.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Phetetso Monese and Teboho Khantsi flash their new Sigma computers.

So what’s the “ACE” part of the team name?

“That stands for “Academy of Cycling Excellence“, but it was actually chosen so that our team would be near the top of the list of the UCI MTB Teams when listed alphabetically!”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Skills coach Wesley Auths (left) and Mark’s assistant manager Seabata Maepa (far right) with the team.

Tell us about the team roster.

“We have seven riders in the team.

“We actually started with two Elite riders, two Under 23’s, two Juniors and one Woman but we have stayed with the same team members for two seasons now and so some of them have moved into new categories.

“Out of these seven riders, only two have both parents still alive. The others have all lost one or both parents.

“In Lesotho, with such a high HIV/AIDS problem, this is not unusual, but it has proved such a hardship for these riders during their upbringing. Some of them were forced to leave school early to provide for families.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
The start of Malealea Monster MTB Challenge.
Mark West MTB Lesotho
Phetetso Monese is the current National Champion. Photo©Andrew McFadden

Cycling must mean a lot to them…

“Sure life has been very hard, but I like to think that through cycling and through our team they have found a chance to believe in themselves and begin to dream and to realise great opportunities.”

There was some polemic at the beginning though?

“Indeed, our first season last year got off to a very rocky start – but ended very well.

“The Lesotho Cycling Federation president at the time did not agree with what we wanted to do and began a series of events that saw all our riders suspended. I was also forced to step down from the committee.

“However, there was a silver lining to the problems as a new committee which was elected later gave us their full support and from that moment on the team excelled.

“In our first year as a UCI MTB Team, we ranked 42nd in the rankings, keeping company with some much bigger teams.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Mark’s son, Lichaba.
Mark West MTB Lesotho
Teboho Khantsi winning Malealea Monster MTB Challenge.

And we saw your riders in action in Glasgow last year.

“Yes, we had two of our riders representing Lesotho at the Commonwealth Games – and another young rider travel to Nanjing for the Youth Olympic Games.

“After a great start in 2014, this year has been a year for consolidating and establishing a firm base for future growth.

“Our focus has been on building up our team partners and equipment and it has been great to welcome some big names, such as Limar helmets, Sigma Sport and Giant bicycles to our team of #DreamMakers.

“There are so many other great brands, but I don’t want this to become a long list.”

Mark West MTB Lesotho
Tseko “Zecco” Shelile is all smiles.
Mark West MTB Lesotho
Phetetso Monese (front) with Malefetsane Lesofe (behind).

What next for the ACE-The Sufferfest Lesotho MTB Team?

“Looking to the future we want to grow bigger and stronger, but also keep our focus on our goals.

“Some other big name African teams have a different approach, but for us it will always be about developing the African talent and giving them an opportunity to shine.

“We would love to have a more active World Cup programme and get to some more world-class races around the globe and to do so we need more investors.”

Like The Sufferfest, Dig Deep, Oakley and the others, we reckon the team are a good investment – especially now with the favourable GBP to ZAR exchange rate – which other UCI-registered team can deliver so much on a budget of under £10,000?

With thanks to Mark for his time with this story (and the photos), and best wishes to the Lesotho riders for next season – we’ll be following their progress keenly.

Martin Williamson
Martin Williamson
Martin is our Editor, web site Designer and Manager, and concentrates on photography. He's been involved in cycle racing for over 43 years and has raced for many of them, having a varied career which includes time trials, road and track racing, and triathlons. Martin has been the Scottish 25 Mile TT and 100 Mile TT Champion, the British Points Race League Champion on the track, and was a prolific winner of time trials in his day, particularly hilly ones like the Tour de Trossachs and the Meldons MTT.

Related Articles

Grant Ferguson – Winning the U23 UCI MTB World Cup at Val di Sole!

And after a couple of seasons of near misses, Grant Ferguson, the British U23 ‘cross and Elite MTB Champion has finally reached the top of the international MTB slippery pole with an excellent win in the U23 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Val di Sole in Italia. Second was Titouan Carod (France) who’s the 2015 U23 World Cup overall winner, emphasising the quality of the Scotsman’s win.

Dan Fleeman – New MTB Team; Forme Coaching-Pactimo-Cannondale

I remember the first time I met Dan Fleeman; 2007 in the days before Twitter, The Shack, LanceGate, the slick marketing of the ‘Flanders Classics’ and the World Tour. Vik still used to go to pro races; before he was too badly scarred by the World Tour – the Tour of Beijing was the last nail in the coffin.

Daryl Impey – the First African Maillot Jaune

Chris Froome will go down in the record books as Great Britain’s second Tour de France winner. But whilst the slim man who now lives in Monaco may have GB next to his name in the record book – he’s originally from Kenya by way of South Africa and his win is a huge shot in the arm for cycle sport in the Dark Continent. But Froome was beaten to the punch as the first African in yellow by a man whose passport still declares ‘Republic of South Africa.’

Dan Craven – Part One; Team Europcar’s New Recruit

It’s been a while since last VeloVeritas spoke to former ‘Man in Black’ and African Road Race Champion, Dan Craven – 2009 to be exact, just after the Drummond Trophy which Dan rode for his Rapha Condor team. With his recent hook-up with Jean Rene Bernadeau’s Europcar squad we thought it was high time we had another word with the man with the most hair in professional cycling. This season has seen a win on GC in the Tour du Cameroon in the colours of German team, Bike Aid-Ride For Help. We caught up with Dan at his new home in the Vendee to talk African Cycling, Europcar – and big hair.

Dan Craven – Part Two; Namibia, Recent Teams and African Racing

With Dan Craven's recent hook-up with Jean Rene Bernadeau’s Europcar squad we thought it was high time we had another word with the man with the most hair in professional cycling, and we heard all it in Part One of our interview with Dan yesterday. In Part Two the conversation turns to Dan's home country of Namibia as we find out about the country and it's cycling, the growth of the sport on the African continent and we learn a little more about his previous teams.

Book Review – “World’s Ultimate Cycling Races”

The new book by respected cycling journalist Ellis Bacon may help - the "World's Ultimate Cycling Races" is an eclectic mix of facts and stats about events all over the globe, from Pro level races such as the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana to MTB races, Gran Fondos and Sportives that anyone can take part in.

At Random

Scottish Cycling Super 6 Series – Event 1, Gifford

The new Scottish Cycling Super 6 series kicked off in grand style today at Gifford in beautiful East Lothian, with Gary Hand taking a well-executed and deserved solo win in the 'A' Race, in a superbly organised Edinburgh Road Club event.

Mark Stewart – “The GB Academy is pretty intense”

It’s wee while since top Scottish trackman, Mark Stewart featured in our pages but he was home recently from GB squad duties and his base in ‘la Bella Italia’ for his brother’s wedding and has been taking in a few local time trials in preparation for next Thursday’s British Cycling Time Trial Championships at Stockton-on-Tees. We thought we best ‘have a word’ before he’s off around Europe, again.

Jim Moore

Rest in peace, Jim Moore, the British ex-pro who emigrated to Canada in 1974 enjoyed a long and varied career, from amateur road and track man in the UK to ‘independent’ in France, representing GB in the 1964 Tour de l’Avenir, a ride in the Skol Six Day, and a successful pro career in the UK before crossing the Atlantic.

The VV View: Pantani Revisionism, Qatar Worlds, CIRC and Raleigh

I can remember perfectly where I was when Marco Pantani died; sitting in my living room in Dysart. The flash came over Eurosport News and I rang Viktor to tell him; ‘hardly surprising’ was the reply. I knew what he meant, the little Italian’s life had been on a self destructive spiral for a some time - rehab or disaster were the only two possible destinations. It was the Spartan philosophers who first coined the expression, ‘never speak ill of the dead.’ And whilst it’s always dreadfully sad to see a young life wasted, I’m puzzled by the current revisionist accounts of his life which are doing the rounds on the 10th anniversary of his death.

Scottish 50 Mile Time Trial Championship 2007

On a day when the Northern skies and the Cromarty Firth conspired in a sullen, grey partnership, Jim Cusick's (Glasgow Couriers) winning 1:51:36 in the Scottish 50 Mile Time Trial Championship 2007 around Invergordon, shone like a beacon. Revelling in the cold, wet conditions, Cusick (above) beat another hardman, Carlos Riise (Shetland Wheelers) by nearly two minutes, the islander recording 1:53:20.

Mickey Morrison – how ANC-Halfords got to the Tour de France

It’s the stuff of cycling folklore; the year was 1987 and a British trade team lined up in Berlin for the start of the world’s biggest bike race. ANC-Halfords was the name on the jersey and the team's presence was largely down to Mickey Morrison, a good amateur rider in the 70’s who brought major sponsors into UK cycling but who’s contribution is largely forgotten...