Leopold König not only believes that his NetApp-Endura team will be awarded a wildcard entry into the Tour de France this year, but that he can better his Vuelta a España result too.
Last year's Vuelta was König's debut at a Grand Tour. He impressed with his ability to stick with the favourites until the final kilometres and finished ninth overall, 10 minutes down on the winner Chris Horner. The Czech rider also held off a charging Daniel Moreno, to take victory on stage 8.
“I don’t think it will be harder,” he told Cyclingnews, when asked if a repeat performance would be difficult. “I think I can improve on the GC result. I don’t see anything to say that we can’t do it again. I am confident about the top 10.”
This isn't the first time that NetApp-Endura have made a bid for a Tour de France wildcard. The did so last year, but missed out when the three available spots were handed to French squads. With the number of home teams looking for a place in La Grande Boucle down to two, König believes his team has a better chance at gaining entry. “I think there are some circumstances in our favour,” he said.
“Some teams have folded and there are now three French WorldTour teams, so that is something we can benefit from. I think we have done well. At the Vuelta the whole team showed that we are able to do those races and we can even make the race and make it interesting. That is really important.”
While stating that the Tour de France parcours is not as challenging as the one he faced in the 2013 Vuelta, the Czech rider believes that the opening stages will be hard. “I did the Tour of Britain and it’s a special area to race. It will be a really big challenge with the small roads.” he explained to Cyclingnews. For him, though, the excitement lies in the time trial from Bergerac.
“I am really confident about the long time trial on the second to last day. I think I can have an advantage over the pure climbers, because I have improved a lot in the time trial. It should suit me also.”
König's young career is one that has been affected by illness, but he has still managed to prove his doubtless capabilities. He missed out on an opportunity to ride the Giro d'Italia in 2012, due to being sick, but later went on to take victory in a stage of the Tour of Britain.
The 26-year-old beat Janier Acevedo and Tejay van Garderen on Mount Diablo, during the queen stage of last season's Tour of California. He was heading towards a top 10 finish at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but was forced out with illness on the final stage. Not to mention the performance at the Vuelta a España. Despite the unexpected interruptions to his season, König believes he is on the right track.
“Last season was my best one. I keep on improving, not only physically but mentally. A race like the Vuelta gives me a lot of confidence. I gained a lot of experience, about how to handle situations when you are not at your best or you are sick. The whole year was a real benefit to me and I just want to continue on my learning process.”
While the Tour de France wildcard is still up in the air, NetApp-Endura have already secured a number of invitations. König will begin his season in Mallorca, before flying out to the Tour of Oman. His first big goal of the season will be Tirreno-Adriatico. He missed out on the race last year, but again he is confident that he can battle it with the top riders and take yet another top 10 finish.