Gaze down the start list for the Olympic mountain bike race Sunday and you’ll see all the favorites, most of them from well-heeled European countries.
Then you’ll see Phetetso Monese from Lesotho.
Who? From where?
Here’s the story of how the mountain biker from the tiny African nation, where some 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, made it to the Rio Olympics _ where he’ll ride a carbon-fiber, full-suspension dream bike worth more than $4,000.
The 32-year-old Monese began riding competitively only a few years ago, but always had to juggle his mountain biking ambitions with the realities of life in the landlocked nation surrounded by more affluent South Africa. He worked 60-hours a week for a soft-drink company stocking supermarket shelves to earn roughly $80 a month, enough to support his wife Mareabetsoe and two children, 4-year-old Reabetsoe and 8-month-old Realeboha.
Yet despite those hurdles, Monese was proving to be something of a prodigy on two wheels. So when The Sufferfest, a company that makes indoor training videos for cyclists, signed on to sponsor his team this year, they offered Monese a contract.
He would be a professional making $100 a month.
It may not seem like much, but it was more than he was making in his previous job. And perhaps more importantly, it allowed Monese to focus his energy on the Rio Olympics.
— Molapo Sports Centre (@MolapoSC) August 2, 2016
Lesotho has competed in every Summer Games since 1972, not counting their boycott of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, but never has had a mountain biker.
So, about that bike.
David McQuillen, who owns The Sufferfest and sponsors the team, began a crowd-funding campaign several months ago to raise money for a proper bike. The one Monese had ridden to such success in Africa would no doubt have carried him around the hilly course in Rio de Janeiro, but it would pale in comparison to what others will be riding.
It would be heavier. The suspension poorer. It would be less reliable.
So, McQuillen and team manager Mark West set a goal of raising $4,000 to get their rider on something more appropriate. And with the Olympic mountain bike race days away, they have raised more than $7,000 _ not only providing Monese his dream bike but raising surplus money to fund better bikes for the rest of his team in Lesotho.
Phetetso Monese, every Sufferlandrians favourite Olympian, is headed to Rio and will be riding a totally BADASS... https://t.co/HM2pfkvdrp
— The Sufferfest (@TheSufferfest) July 25, 2016
The reality is Monese has almost no shot of landing on the podium. He doesn't have the name recognition of world road race champion Peter Sagan, or the palmares of reigning Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy and five-time world champion Nino Schurter. In fact, Monese would do well simply to finish the race.
But simply by getting to the Olympics, you could argue that he has already won.
— UCI MTB (@UCI_MTB) August 18, 2016