New Team Sky signing Kenny Elissonde has said that he still doesn't know his race schedule for 2017 as the team's preparations for the coming season were delayed as it sought to manage its response to the Bradley Wiggins TUE affair.
In September, the Fancy Bears cyber-hacking group revealed that Wiggins had received therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
Some ten days passed before Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford spoke about the matter in public, insisting that Wiggins had used the corticosteroid to treat asthma, and Elissonde told L'Équipe that the British team was still managing the fall-out from the TUE case by the time its riders gathered for a get together in late October.
"I'll know more [about the race schedule – ed.] from December 9 when we're at the training camp. We could have perhaps spoken about it a bit during the first camp at the end of October but with the TUE story, the team had to work a lot to manage that. It was three days to do all the medical tests and a get together," Elissonde told L’Équipe.
"It's a get together that they do every year but this time they didn't have time to talk about the race programme. Ian Boswell told me that they normally talked about it but everything was a little delayed."
Elissonde arrives at Sky after spending his entire professional career to this point at FDJ. News of the signing broke days before the Fancy Bears leaked details of Wiggins’ contentious TUEs, and Elissonde expressed surprise at the revelation.
"It's bizarre because there's a very strong anti-doping policy on the team. We had several meetings to make us aware of that. Even before the contract negotiations, I had to send my biological passport to show that everything was ok. I would be the first to be surprised if they played a bit with the rules," Elissonde said.
"Based on what I've seen of the team, I don't believe that it could have encouraged this type of behaviour. To me that doesn't seem consistent with what Dave [Brailsford] says – he is 100 per cent anti-doping. If I re-read Brad's remarks from the period, he was just as strongly against doping. In France, it was different. We had slightly different rules with the MPCC [Movement for Credible Cycling– ed]. It was unthinkable to do the Tour de France like that."
Elissonde spent four seasons with FDJ, a member of the MPCC, which has stricter, voluntary rules that prohibit the use of cortisone in competition. Asked how he would respond if Team Sky – which is not in the MPCC – offered him the same treatment as Wiggins, Elissonde said: "I would be very surprised if the team offered that to me. And that's not a corporate remark because I'm being paid by Team Sky."
Sky's third-ever Frenchman
Elissonde will be the first French rider on Team Sky since 2010, when Nicolas Portal (now a directeur sportif at the team) and Sylvain Calzati were on the squad's inaugural roster. Brailsford has previously spoken of his desire to challenge for the Tour de France with a French rider, but Elissonde is realistic about his standing on the team.
"Frankly, I don't think they’ve taken me for that. They were perhaps looking for a Frenchman but you have to keep your feet on the ground," Elissonde said. "Winning the Tour as an équipier for a leader, yes that's possible, but it's totally different."
Elissonde won atop the Angliru at his first Vuelta a España in 2013 and he placed 16th overall in the race last year, but the 25-year-old has yet to ride the Tour de France and downplayed the prospect of making his debut in 2017.
"They have the tendency to sign leaders from other teams to have them ride as domestiques. Sometimes they have five or six in groups of 10 or 15 riders at the end of a stage," Elissonde said. "I'm quite rational. I'd be happy to help [Mikel] Landa fight for the win at the Giro and [Chris] Froome at the Vuelta."