Mini but mighty, Kenny Elissonde takes a jersey home from Oman

The FDJ climber looks like a junior but his climbing is all pro

MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Team FDJ celebrated on Saturday in the Tour of Oman. Not only did pint-size climber Kenny Elissonde wrap up the best young rider classification, but French champion Nacer Bouhanni sprinted to take the final stage along the corniche.

Chris Froome (Sky) finished with the pack to take his first stage-race win. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) placed second at 27 seconds with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) third at 39 seconds.

They stood on the final podium along Muscat’s corniche with the diminutive Elissonde, whose white jersey flapped in the wind.

Early in the race, some wondered whether FDJ had brought its junior team. Elissonde has the build of Joe Dombrowski, but stands about two feet shorter and weighs only 115 pounds (52kg).

But Elissonde received his due respect when he placed sixth on Green Mountain Thursday in the company of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).

“I like steep climbs, long hills,” he told VeloNews. “It’s not so easy for me when the stages are flat. I need to improve on those types of stages.”

Elissonde will head home to Paris Saturday with his jersey and khanjar knife. He lives about 20 miles out of the city center, near teammate Yoann Offredo.

“My girlfriend lives right in the center,” he said. “When I can, I’m out with her for a coffee or something. I love the city! In the center, though, it’s impossible to ride.”

The second-year professional maintains a busy schedule this season and has little time for the Tuileries Garden. FDJ selected him to ride the Giro d’Italia, his first grand tour, in support of Arnold Jeannesson.

“I will race for the stages; the GC would be too stressful in my first grand tour. Three weeks of racing will be hard for me, but Arnold Jeannesson has experience and will help,” Elissonde said.

“I’ve got to improve my time trialing. In my last year as an elite cyclist, I won a time trial, but in the pros it’s impossible. [Bradley] Wiggins and the others are so powerful, for me it’s important just not to lose a lot of time.”

Elissonde eyes the high-mountains where he can take advantage of his size. If he gets there, he would love to have his chance on the Gavia, the race’s only stage in France.

“For sure, nothing’s impossible if you believe in it,” Elissonde said. “I’m a pure climber and the Gavia is a perfect climb for a climber. If I haven’t lost too much energy by then and I’m in a good breakaway, then why not?”