Bakang (BK) Matshidiso Ebudilwe hails from Botswana, and Tumelo Makae from Lesotho. Both are part of the ACE-The Sufferfest Lesotho MTB Team. In March this year they left their homes on a two-year Olympic Solidarity scholarship to chase their dreams at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland.
After just five months, their progress has been staggering. Fitter, stronger, and above all technically superior, the two athletes flew home at the beginning of the month and easily won their respective national mountain bike championships.
Back at the UCI WCC, they will tackle their first ever UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, in La Bresse, France, this weekend. Thanks to UCI points won at the Nationals they will have better places on the starting grid, a significant bonus as they try to gain points towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification.
We talk to their coach and the athletes themselves
Coach Charlie Evans (GBR)
UCI WCC coach Charlie Evans confirms the progress of these two athletes who arrived in Switzerland with few technical skills but enormous potential. Initially unable to lift their wheels independently or bunny-hop on the bike, they have acquired skills enabling them to front up to international competition.
“I have been teaching them to be brave, technically good and assertive,” says their coach. “They need to be able to apply technical skills in race conditions. It’s one thing to manage it alone in training but another to pull it off in stressful race conditions when they are already very tired.”
The two athletes have gained that valuable race experience at different rounds of the high-level Swiss Cup.
“At each race they are stepping forward and I hope their national titles will give them the boost they need. We’re still in development stage and we will treat La Bresse as a training camp going into Lenzerheide (UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz one week later).
“We will set process goals rather than outcome goals, for example to beat the track rather than other riders, and to do even lap times.”
Bakang (BK) Matshidiso Ebudilwe (Botswana)
“Everything is different here from at home, especially the altitude. We don’t have mountains at home,” says BK, who fully intends to be the first female cyclist from Botswana to compete at the Olympics.
At her national championships, she finished 11 minutes ahead of the runner-up: “Everyone is proud of me at home, and the win was particularly special because it was the first time our nationals were registered on the UCI calendar! It’s really great.
“When I arrived in Switzerland I wasn’t very confident on the bike. Now I can see I have improved technically and I am much more confident. The World Cycling Centre is definitely the right place for training and to qualify for Tokyo.”
She also appreciates the Swiss summer weather which is neither too hot nor too cold. Even riding in the rain is possible: “At first when it rained I thought we wouldn’t train but the coach just said, ‘OK let’s go.’ At home I didn’t go out in the rain.”
In the words of her coach: “Coming from road cycling, BK already had plenty of endurance. She is a prudent rider who thinks - sometimes too much - before tackling a new obstacle or course. She has incredible aerobic capacity, a good sprint, and impressive coordination.”
Tumelo Makae (Lesotho)
Tumelo Makae won the Lesotho National Championships in 2017 from a sprint. This year, he took victory by a bigger gap, despite a crash which made him wonder if he had blown his chances.
“After the third lap, I decided to attack,” explains Makae. “When I crashed I thought it was the end of my race, but it wasn’t!”
Makae also competed in the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April, finishing 19th, one lap behind the winners: “It was a good experience racing against world class riders,” said the young rider who will turn 22 two days before his first UCI World Cup race in La Bresse.
“Since I have been at the World Cycling Centre, I have progressed physically and technically. I am better than before. Here we are not disturbed by outside things. We just train. I really enjoy it. I never did gym work at home and that has helped me. But I what I love most is going on the trails!”
In the words of his coach: “Compared to BK, Makae is more of a ‘bring it on’ rider who likes nothing more than to race and is very competitive. He never gives up and stays in race mode right to the finish line. He has responded extremely well to core skills since training at the UCI World Cycling Centre.”
After the UCI World Championships their Olympic campaign will continue. The next major goal will be the African Continental Championships next year, where they will be able to earn more qualification points.