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Observers of the Santos Tour Down Under have noticed the climbing skills of Kenny Elissonde. The 21-year-old Frenchman from FDJ who weighs just 51kg and is 1.69m tall finished 13th overall and fourth best young rider in a race dominated by a rider of his caliber – Tom-Jelte Slagter. Arriving in Adelaide, world champion Philippe Gilbert, who remains close to his first pro team, mentioned Elissonde as someone able to create a surprise in the South Australian event after winning a hilly stage at Paris-Corrèze last year.
“13th is not an exceptional result but I’m kind of happy with it,” Elissonde told Cyclingnews. “It shows that I’m starting my second pro year on the right path. I always heard that a solid winter training is the key to perform during the whole season. The ascent to Willunga Hill was a bit too fast for me. I prefer steeper sections and changes of rhythm.”
“Kenny’s Tour Down Under is definitely a successful one,” said FDJ directeur sportif Yvon Madiot. “Bearing in mind that the course wasn’t exactly the best for him as it made a nervous race, he did really well. He’s a pure climber like some Spaniards and Colombians that we’ve seen in the past.”
Also scheduled for the Tour of Oman, the Volta Catalunya and the Tour of the Basque Country, Elissonde will make his debut in a Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia alongside Arnold Jeannesson, who came 15th at the 2011 Tour de France and Sandy Casar, who has announced his intention to ride all three Grand Tours this year.
“Sandy took this decision during our training camp in December,” Madiot explained. “He’s been tempted by this challenge for a while, as he prefers long stage races than short ones where the pressure is higher with a lot more contenders for very few opportunities to deliver. In a Grand Tour, he knows which stage suits him and he seldom misses the right breakaway on that day. His goal is not only to participate but to win a stage in each of the Grand Tours. To achieve this, he’ll resume racing later than usual. At 34, he’s got experience and he knows his capacities. He’s a hard worker and very serious about cycling. He’s one of these guys whose career has been ruined by the dopers and now he’s got the feeling that the dark years of cycling are behind him.”
FDJ hired Casar in 1999 and always kept faith him. He has three stage wins of the Tour de France under his belt and a sixth place overall at the 2006 Giro d’Italia won by Ivan Basso. The team of the Madiot brothers is also known for developing young talents. The 2013 season looks promising for the four-leaved clover team, with the likes of sprinters Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni, classic hunter Yoann Offredo – who returns from a one-year ban for whereabouts violations, Dauphiné stage winner Arthur Vichot, former junior world champion Johan Le Bon, climbers Alexandre Geniez and Thibaut Pinot, who came tenth overall at the 2012 Tour de France at the age of 22. With Elissonde, FDJ now has even more strength in depth for the mountains. “Because of our philosophy of developing young riders, we need to build our team two years in advance,” Madiot said.