Leopold König was hot property after finishing seventh in his debut Tour de France this July. He had four teams - his own NetApp-Endura and three WorldTour teams - looking for his signature for 2015. The Czech rider made several visits to Manchester and so decided to plump for Team Sky. When the signing was made official at the end of September, team manager Dave Brailsford described him as a gifted rider and justifiably so. In just two attempts at a Grand Tour, König has twice finished in the top 10: seventh at the Tour and ninth at the 2013 Vuelta a España.
After returning from two weeks on holiday at a Spa resort, where he spent some time to recover from an arduous 2014 season, König got the first chance to meet his new teammates at a team camp in the UK. The three days left him certain that he had made the right choice.
"It was just confirmation of what I thought about the team and the work they are doing. I am really happy with my decision," König tells Cyclingnews as he travelled back from Nice, after a meeting with head of athlete performance, Tim Kerrison.
There were plenty of chances for the new riders to mingle with the current roster at the camp, with a day out on the water with the British sailing team the main event. It was supposed to be a fun day out, but you can't keep a group of sportsmen from being competitive. "We are all professional cyclists and we want to be competitive in every way," König says.
"It was pretty awesome stuff. I did sailing about 10 years ago, with my parents on a smaller boat. This time it was a bit different, with a much bigger boat. It was a lot of fun and we did a lot of good team work and finally we got second place from ten boats. So I was pretty pleased."
Taking the next step
For König, the move to Team Sky and the WorldTour is the obvious next step in his career. Knowing that he would be out of contract at the end of the season, the 26-year-old sat down with his coach and selected five teams that he would like to ride for next season. He declined to name the teams on his list but said that there were a number of criteria. Being English speaking was a big consideration, but Sky's GC prowess proved the defining factor.
"If they can win the Tour two times that must mean they are doing something good and maybe I can learn something from that," he says to Cyclingnews. "The main thing was that they were more focused on the Grand Tours and I feel that, for my improvement, I need a team that is more focused on Grand Tours. They have a really strong GC team."
Although he made the decision fairly early in the year that he would move on from NetApp, it wasn't an easy decision. Konig turned professional with the German-registered team in 2011. During his time there he took stage victories at the Vuelta a España, the Tour of California and the Tour of Britain and he credits them largely with his progression to WorldTour races.
"Without NetApp I wouldn't be at this level. I joined them from team Whirlpool. There were no other options for me at that time, in 2010. I'm so grateful to them," he says. "It's hard to leave a team like this, especially when you feel at home there. But life changes and you have to move on and we have to work on other things. It's a pity, but that's life.”
A rollercoaster year
The result at this year's Tour de France and his contract at Team Sky meant that 2014 was hugely successful for König, but it was also another turbulent year. It began well with a solid result at the Tour of Oman but a knee injury forced him to miss his first big target at Tirreno-Adriatico and spend a month off the bike. It looked like his Tour de France debut was about to come off the rails, but he held on and arrived in Leeds with decent form. In keeping with the theme of the season, the Tour was another rollercoaster for him, as a series of crashes meant he dropped down the general classification.
"The first week was crazy," he explains. "I had a lot of bad luck in the first week, with two crashes and I also had a mechanical on the cobbles. So it is true that the first ten days of the Tour were really hard and to stay focused. The GC was tricky with Tiago Machado being first at the time. Finally we waited until the first mountain stage and I finished third. From then on things started to go right and there the real Tour started and it was a lucky Tour, I guess."
After such a big moment in his career, König's season ended with a bit of a whimper - he fell ill just days after arriving in Aspen for the USA Pro Challenge. He finished the Tour of Britain and ended his time at NetApp-Endura with 67th at the Tour of Lombardy.
With his holidays officially over, König's thoughts now turn to his goals for 2015. His calendar will not be finalised until the first official team training camp in December, but König already has a few ideas as to where he'd like to race next year.
First on his list is the Tour de France, where he would be happy to take up a support role for Chris Froome, if needed. "For about a month after the Tour, I was feeling a little bit empty. Then it changed completely and I told myself that I wanted to go back next year. Normally, it will be in a supporting role or a leadership role, so I definitely want to go back next year," he says.
"I would also like to do Tirreno and Catalunya, because I've never got to do them. I've never ridden the Giro so maybe that will be the next step."