Rolling out of the start house at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning in Kigali, Olivier Le Court de Billot (Mauritian National Team) made history as the first Mauritian to start the Tour of Rwanda. The 24-year-old was also the first rider to start the 3.3km prologue around the Amaroo Stadium and duly slotted into the hot seat as the virtual race leader.
While favoured by the early start, the time of Le Court de Billot, the brother of former national women's champion Kimberley, held up as he eventually finished in 12th place at 12 seconds to winner Jean Bosco Nsengimana (Rwanda National Team).
"It was short and hard. I like the type of effort so I just gave it my all. It was a bit too flat for me but I still went full gas and I hope it will stay like until the end," Le Court de Billot explained to Cyclingnews after his early-morning effort.
"At the finish, I tried to look up and I thought I was in the finish of a Tour de France stage [with the crowd]. It was magic."
In the overall context of the race, the short-and-fast prologue is unlikely to decide the yellow jersey, although the 3.3km course offered a glimpse into which riders have arrived in Kigali in good condition. Le Court de Billot's strengths come to the fore when the roads head uphill, and with a main course of climbing to be served up in the seven road stages, he is hoping to carry his prologue form into the hills.
"For the race, we prepared with the team and we went to the Pyrenees, because I live in France, to train in the mountains," he said. "The time trial I didn't train too much because I didn't have a bike. The team gave me a bike yesterday. The bike suits me well so it was fine."
A rugby player before turning his attention to cycling, Le Court de Billot left the small Indian island nation of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, to pursue his dream in France. Although renowned for its biodiversity, Mauritius' topography hasn't lead to a proliferation of cyclists. The highest point on the island, which is named after Maurits van Oranje and briefly known as the Isle de France, is the Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at just 828 meters.
Therefore, it's no surprise Le Court de Billot packed his bags and headed to France where he has ridden at an amateur level since 2012, starting with VC Sainte-Croix-en-Plaine a year after racing the 2011 Worlds junior road race. While Le Court de Billot has developed as a cyclist within France and calls Europe home, he explained, "I am Mauritian, but I am racing with a French team in Toulouse. I am there all season and when the Mauritian team needs me, I come and race with the team."
The decision then to line out for the Mauritian national team on its debut at the Tour of Rwanda was an easy one, and not just to make history.
"I love racing for my country, so that was one reason. I never came to Rwanda, so it was a country to discover," he said. "I heard here it is like the Tour de France with the ambiance and everything. I am happy to be here."
With a limited amount of UCI race days on his calendar, the Tour of Rwanda is also an important race for Le Court de Billot to chase his dream to "become a professional rider" and write another chapter of history for Mauritian cycling history.
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