It could be the script of a Hollywood film. Leopold König has written himself into Czech cycling history as the first Czech rider to finish all three Grand Tour races in the top ten. At the same time, he had a roller coaster of a career: he appeared on the road by accident, quickly made his way into the elite, and then retired prematurely for health reasons. He currently heads the largest Czech cycling event.
Is fate written in the stars? In the case of Leopold König, everything indicated that the Moravská Třebová club had more of an ice-hockey player than a cycling star. "I think I had talent," admits the thirty-five-year-old director of the Under-23 Peace Race and the Czech Tour today. At the same time, he combined skating with mountain biking, but he did not see a future in it.
I never felt comfortable with it. Not only was I not winning, but I wasn't riding at the front either. Sometimes I cried in the forest because I didn't enjoy it," says the cycling comet of the last decade. And his training approach? "In order to force myself to pedal at all, I took a fishing line in my pocket and made the ride more interesting by poaching," laughs König at the old memories.
Even winding roads reach their destination. And the world did not miss out on a promising cycling talent. But only road cycling opened the door to it. “I discovered that a bike can go fast. It was clean, it wasn't just splashing around in the mud. Cycling suddenly seemed fun to me. And the motivation kicked in immediately. During the very first season, I rode evenly with guys who had been racing for three years," describes König.
Of course, the growing confidence did not go unnoticed, and König opened the door to the big world by joining the PSK Whirlpool team. After four years of preparation, the call came from the German continental team NetApp Endura. It was here that the Czech rider shone for the first time when he finished ninth overall in the Vuelta in 2013. In addition, he sensationally won the eighth stage in Spain, when he left behind Daniel Moreno and Nicholas Roche at the top of the fourteen-kilometre climb to Alto Pena Blancas, and in doing so delivered the team's greatest ever success.
A year later, he rode the Tour de France in the role of team leader and took to this role brilliantly. The overall seventh place is the second-best Czech result in history after Roman Kreuziger's fifth place. "It's a great result for the first time on the Tour, I don't think anyone has achieved that on their debut. But I also take it as a commitment for the future. The Tour is a slightly different world, one of the most watched sports events in the world, the feedback can certainly be heard," König commented on his great performance, knowing that he is attracting the attention of the hawks of the elite World Tour.
He ended up in the clutches of the strongest of all - the then dominant British team Sky, in which the legendary Bradley Wiggins was still shining and Chris Froome was climbing his way up the cycling Olympus. Just to give an idea: for König, it was a diametrical shift, almost like an ice-hockey player transferring from the extra league to the NHL. Or even better, as if he jumped from Formula 2 to F1, and what’s more, straight to the Ferrari team.
"One dreamed of what it would be like to ride for such a team. In addition, I signed a contract as a rider with a certain status, not as a water carrier. It would be a huge leap in terms of material and training, no matter which team I choose from the World Tour. But this is also Team Sky. A dream come true," he did not hide his enthusiasm in 2014 after signing the contract, which came after two months of speculation among the public and journalists.
In the British team, König found himself among the cream of cycling’s elite; right at the start of his first season with the team he made his presence felt at the Giro, where he finished sixth. And in July at the Tour de France, he took on the role of domestic for Chris Froome, whom he helped to a second Tour de France title. "My seventh place last year and Chris Froome's first place are incomparable things, but in both cases it is a huge success," he gushed after the phenomenal arrival in Paris, before which he and his teammates enjoyed the traditional champagne toast during the ride.
But fate continued to affect the career of the Czech competitor. A knee injury affected him the following season, and after two years in the Sky team there was a move, or rather return to the NetApp team, which has since been renamed Bora-Hansgrohe. Still, big goals remained, and König declared his aim of becoming the first Czech on the podium of the Tour de France.
In the end, it remained just a dream.
The health problems continued. Knees and back. Missing the Giro in 2017 was the first sad sign. Other disappointments followed during the entire three-year engagement. He finally decided to quit.
However, the next challenge was not long in coming. Leo next met with the professional peloton in 2020 – this time as director of the Czech Tour and the Peace Race, two of the most prestigious cycling events in the Czech Republic. And once again, he has big plans: "We want to constantly improve, move higher. To prepare races that will regularly be on the calendars of the world's best riders and teams. We are preparing attractive and very demanding stages, while at the same time placing great emphasis on faultless service," he concludes.
Foto: Markéta Navrátilová