The Mauritian darkhorse at Paris-Roubaix Femmes with the race’s wildest backstory

Meet the little-known rider from a tiny island nation who could shake up Paris-Roubaix Femmes

Kim (Le Court) Pienaar is well-versed in the stereotypes about her home country Mauritius. “People think we train on the sand and eat coconuts all day - and yeah we do! - but we also eat other things! It is proper tropical, we live on tourism, and if you go there, you go tan, you live on cocktails, and you go to the beach, and that’s what it is.”

It’s a Thursday afternoon in Oudenaarde, Belgium, and the sky outside is grey, the next rain shower imminent. (Le Court) Pienaar could not be any further from home – both literally and figuratively – but she’d also not want to be anywhere else. On Saturday, she is going to race Paris-Roubaix, becoming the first ever rider from Mauritius to do so, and in only her 13th race day as a WorldTour pro. What’s more remarkable is that her spring form has been so consistently good that she could be the surprise story of the weekend. “It’s just awesome, I’m living my dream and it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time,” the 28-year-old from AG Insurance - Soudal tells Rouleur. “I’m just hoping to get a chance to show what I can do.”

When 140 women take to the startline of the fourth edition of Roubaix on Saturday morning, most of them will have different versions of the same ubiquitous story, mostly comprising of tales of progression through European pathways. (Le Court) Pienaar’s could not be any different.

Born in 1996 to a Scottish mother and Mauritian father in Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean that is 0.84% the size of the UK and without any previous international cycling heritage, she lived the typical island life. “It’s super rural and life’s good. I come from an unknown area that no one knows, right. The mountain biking scene is much bigger than the road one, and there are cycling clubs, teams and races, but it’s so small compared to Europe. And the dogs! Ah, I hate dogs! There are so many dogs wanting to eat me alive!”

In 2015 and 2016, (Le Court) Pienaar – Le Court is her maiden name that she’s decided to keep after marrying her husband Ian last year – raced in Europe for UCI teams, but “financially it was impossible for me. I was really young, my parents were helping me, but it didn’t work out.” So she went home, pondered what to do, and then “mountain bike came up as an opportunity [in 2019], and being someone who grabs opportunities and likes to challenge myself, I hopped into that scene.” And successful she was, winning African championships, just missing out on a medal in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and triumphing in last year’s Swiss Epic. 

But she wanted more. “My husband and I decided why not give it another shot on the road, and from August until December [last year] we contacted as many people as we could. My husband was the one bothering people on every platform he could find, and I was like, ‘oh my word, people are gonna hate us’. I didn’t have hope just because I knew how hard it was to get into the scene and I have been away for so long.” Seven seasons to be precise, and what’s more she didn’t have an agent, didn’t have the contacts. In December, however, Natascha den Ouden, the then-manager of AG Insurance - Soudal , was intrigued by her CV. “She was willing to have a team meeting, get to know me as a person, and that’s when it all changed. All those emails worked. I guess you just never have to give up.”

Yet as much as she wanted it, moving back to Europe and fulfilling her dream was daunting. Petrifying, even. “As a rider, as a person in everyday life, I don’t really believe in myself all that much. It doesn’t look like it, but I am really intimidated by people, riders, and I think it’s all too good to be true. Coming into the team in the first few weeks I was really shy to meet everyone.” When she made her debut at the Tour Down Under, she immediately caused a stir – and not for her performances. “Everyone on social media thought that I had the world championships bands on my sleeve - but it’s just the colour of my country’s flag.” The four-hooped flag descends from red, blue, yellow and green – uncannily similar to the rainbow bands.

Over the next few weeks, she experienced more flag-related hiccups. “In Australia they put a British flag next to my name; the second time I was French; and in Belgium I was Dutch. I was like, ‘come on, guys, do you not have our flag saved? Is this how small we are?’ I was really bothered by that. People were saying, ‘why, don’t you want to be Dutch? I was saying, ‘no, I’m Mauritian’. If I go to the Nationals and win the Nationals, I’ll probably have the flag on my chest and people will be asking, ‘what the hell, are there two world champions in the bunch?’ But I really want people to know where I am from and what the island is about, who I am, but obviously it’s going to take a bit of time.”

Not as much time as it might once have taken, for (Le Court) Pienaar has been one of the revelations of the spring campaign, finishing no lower than 25th in five successive WorldTour races, and often much higher, such as 9th at Classic Brugge-De Panne. “It’s gone completely above my expectations. I wasn’t expecting this and now we’re in a situation where I’ve been made the team leader. It’s been good, but I want more. If I get a top-10 it’s almost never good enough – I want to always better myself, to be better than yesterday.”

(Le Court) Pienaar’s already making history as the first Mauritian rider – men or women – to compete in the WorldTour, and she seems on the path to greater glory. “I’m excited by Roubaix, and the people and team around me believe that I could do a good result. In my heart, I also know I can do really well, but I’ll need luck on my side as well.”

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