As UCI World Cycling Centre trainee Tumelo Makae tackles the grueling Swiss mountain bike stage race, the Swiss Epic, this week (18-22 September), he is also supporting an initiative close to his heart.
The Lesotho born-and-bred athlete is pairing up with South African professional mountain biker Cherie Redecker in a mixed team called Velosolutions #pumpforpeace Team.
Velosolutions, which constructed the recently-opened pump track at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, initiated the #pumpforpeace movement to give children in underprivileged communities access to cycling via their pump tracks.
When approached to ride for the Velosolutions #pumpforpeace Team, Tumelo did not need to think twice, particularly as the first pump track built under this initiative – Roma Lesotho - is in his home country.
“I train on the track when I’m back home, it’s 40km from where I live,” he says. “#pumpforpeace helps get people into cycling. It takes children away from the streets and bad habits. The pump track is not just a place to hang out. It’s something to keep them busy.”
Tumelo is proud that his “local” track hosted a qualifying event for the 2019 Redbull UCI Pump Track World Championships sending Lesotho athlete Mohapi Mosito to last year’s inaugural Worlds in Bern (Switzerland). This year he qualified again alongside top female Kothalang Leuta.
Tumelo’s Swiss Epic teammate Cherie Redecker first met Tumelo at a cross-country Olympic race in Afriska, Lesotho, in 2014. She saw him progress as part of the Lesotho Sufferfest MTB Team and competitor in the Lesotho Sky stage race (where in 2018 he came third overall and won a stage with his race partner and Olympian Phetetso Monese).
She has also seen the powerful impact the Roma Lesotho pump track project has had on cycling in Lesotho, and for her, it was logical to join up with Tumelo for #pumpforpeace.
“Seeing the positive work #pumpforpeace and Velosolutions have been doing for developing communities, I wanted to help bring more awareness to these initiatives, so I approached them to ask if I could race with them with Tumelo at the Swiss Epic,” she said.
Cherie took up competitive cycling relatively late, after starting out in photography.
“I started seeing the difference pump tracks have on developing communities from the photography projects I worked on,” she says. “Safety in these communities is a big concern, but by having pump tracks, children can develop basic cycling skills in a safe environment. These basic skills help them for all cycling disciplines,” says the athlete. “I personally feel that riders who have had the opportunity to develop skills from riding pump tracks have an extra edge when it comes to technical riding.”
Both Tumelo - who has been training at the UCI WCC in Switzerland on an Olympic Solidarity scholarship since 2018 - and Cherie are cross-country Olympic specialists aiming to qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. Although both already have some stage-racing experience, their mixed-team venture in the Swiss Alps will be focused on doing their best and raising awareness.
Velosolutions founder and CEO Claudio Caluori will be on his E-Bike during the stage race to promote #pumpforpeace among the high-profile field of athletes. Last week the well-known and charismatic mountain biker and entrepreneur undertook a #keneveresting challenge to raise money for the initiative.
To coincide with the African pair’s Swiss Epic venture, a special sweepstake has been organised, with all proceeds going to #pumpforpeace. The winner will receive a new mountain bike.
So far #pumpforpeace has constructed three pump tracks in Lesotho, and three in Durban.
Tumelo Makae hopes his promotional efforts at the Swiss Epic will further help the initiative, which he intends to continue supporting in the future: “I want to help inspire others, and I would love to help make another track and look after it.”