Kenny Elissonde steps up

Basking in the sunshine outside his team's camper van ahead of stage 2 of the 2019 Herald Sun Tour, Kenny Elissonde is happy.

"I love it here in Australia," the Team Sky rider tells Cyclingnews. "I love the heat, and there's a great atmosphere. It's serious racing, but at the same time it's a little more relaxed than racing in Europe, so it's lovely."

The 27-year-old Frenchman has been ever-present this year at the front of the Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and now at the Herald Sun Tour, whenever the roads have pointed upwards. He may not yet have been able to translate that good form into a win – although that could change on Saturday's penultimate stage, with its multiple climbs of Arthurs Seat on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula – but Elissonde is happy, both with the weather and his form.

"It's always good to start the season off on the right foot, and we've had a great start with Wout Poels taking third overall at the Tour Down Under," Elissonde says, downplaying his contribution, when he attacked on both ascents of Willunga Hill on the race's last stage, dragging his team leader clear on both occasions, only for Trek-Segafredo's Richie Porte to sweep by to take the stage win.

"The team's been working really well together, and we want to keep that going as long as we can. It's always important to start well, and good for your confidence to go back to Europe with some good sensations and feelings. Back in Europe, I'll have a little break, and then start training again," he says, although he's unsure of his race programme once his Australian trip is over.

"For now I've just been really focused on this block here, so I haven't really thought too much about what the plan is afterwards. I'll finish this race, and will then sit down with the team staff once I'm back in Europe next week, and we'll start to plan out the season a bit more.

"When I knew I was going to Australia, we started thinking about how I could be the best I could be here, but without putting anything in jeopardy for the rest of the season," Elissonde explains. "You need to try to be good, but also hold back a little bit, because the season is still long afterwards, and you don't want to make any mistakes that could be bad for the season, so we were focused on trying to do well without doing too much, and then, once back from Australia, I'll be able to focus on the big part of the season."

Elissonde's punchy, yet sustained, attacks – on Willunga Hill, and on Challambra Crescent at the Cadel race – would suggest he'd be a handy rider at the Ardennes Classics back in Europe.

"I've never really done them. I did them one year as a neo pro with FDJ, but I didn't really... I prefer longer climbs, but I'm actually going OK on the shorter climbs here," says Elissonde, who turned pro with the French WorldTour team in 2012, and was a non-finisher at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège that year.

"It's not something we've talked about yet. Obviously we have a really strong team for the Ardennes – Wout of course won Liège in 2016 – so for the moment I'm not really looking ahead yet; I just have one last week to go here, and then next week I'll talk a bit more with the staff."

'I love attacking'

Elissonde has seven Grand Tours under his belt, and at his first three-week race – the Vuelta a España in 2013 – he won the stage to the top of the famous Angliru climb after an audacious solo breakaway.

While Elissonde has yet to ride the Tour de France, he's ridden the past two editions of the Giro d'Italia for Team Sky – who he joined in 2017 – and helped Chris Froome to the overall title in 2018, gaining selection after what was also a good start to the season last year.

"He's been amazing this week; he's really stepped up," Froome said of his teammate at the Tour of the Alps last year. "He's been there in the final every day, and he's definitely putting himself forward for Giro selection."

Elissonde could be a force to be reckoned with at the Giro, or even the Tour, this year, although for the moment, he's concentrating on finishing the Herald Sun Tour with a flourish.

"There are some big names here. Yes – Michael Woods [EF Education First] and Porte, but I think [Mitchelton-Scott's] Lucas Hamilton will do well [on Saturday's stage 4], and we've also got Pavel Sivakov, who's going really well. We have some cards to play, but Richie and Michael are the big names on paper. Maybe there'll be some surprises from the domestic riders. That would be nice; it's great for them to have a chance at this race to see what you need to do to be one of the best in the world, but Richie is one of the best in the world and Woods was third at the Worlds, so they'll be difficult to beat.

"I love attacking," he continues. "I'm a rider who loves attacking. I don't always get the opportunity to, but at this kind of race, if I can attack – and if I have the legs, of course – I'll always try."

On the offensive

By the finish of stage 2 of the Herald Sun Tour, where Elissonde was on the offensive again on the gravelled climb that came close to the end of Thursday's stage, he pulled to a halt delighted to have finished third behind winner Woods and second-placed Porte.

"It was a little bit like our attack on Willunga Hill a week ago – but this time I was with my friend Pavel, rather than Wout – but again Richie came past," Elissonde tells Cyclingnews.

"We tried to shake things up a little bit lower down the climb when I attacked with Pavel, but maybe I should have waited until Michael's attack with Richie. But when those guys go, you never really know whether you'll be able to follow them, as they're so strong. No regrets, though; it was a cool race."

Saturday's 112.9km fourth stage, with its four climbs of Arthurs Seat, looks set to be an action-packed one, and Elissonde has every intention of being in the mix once more.

"I don't know the Arthurs Seat climb, but I've been told it's hard, and, with the multiple laps, it should be a hard day, and an opportunity for the climbers to have a bit of fun," he grins.

Elissonde season has certainly started well, and the Frenchman looks set to play a key role in Team Sky's successes this season.

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