Following four months on the sidelines, Leopold König (Team Sky) will finally get to line-up at a race on Saturday, when he starts the Tour de Suisse as part of a strong Team Sky squad lead by Geraint Thomas. A persistent knee injury means that König hasn’t seen racing action since he packed his bags at the end of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February.
It’s been a tough few months for the Czech rider but that time off has given him increased hunger and drive as he aims big in the second half of this season.
“When I have been training in the mountains the last few weeks doing some intervals, I felt quite good, considering what happened. The main thing is that I feel fresh and hungry again. I think that will be my big advantage for the rest of the season,” König told Cyclingnews before heading to Switzerland.
After the Tour de Suisse, König will head home for the Czech national championships before a short break followed by the Tour de Pologne as had been planned at the start of the season. However, it the Olympic Game in Rio that has his attention and that has helped him through the tough times.
“That’s the main focus in my head at the moment. I want to do both the time trial and the road race, which suits me really well. That’s what is keeping me motivated,” said König. “The Olympics are above the sport of cycling. It’s something you might never experience in your life again so for sure I want to be part of the Olympic team, and I want to be the best there. When I saw the profiles of the TT and the road race, I had the thought of getting a medal and why not in both. Let’s keep the goals high.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
König’s season hardly got off the ground before it was put on hiatus just seven race days into it. He’d kicked things off with two solid performances at the Mallorca Challenge and ended the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana with 10th overall, while teammate Wout Poels claimed victory. However the consequence of a crash early in the race reared its head a few days after he returned home. Unbeknownst to himself and the team, it would end any hopes of returning to the Giro d’Italia and kept him off his bike for two months.
“I think that it was the longest period without my bike I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he told Cyclingnews with a wry laugh. “I even had to get used to my bike position again."
"It’s been a really long time since the injury happened and I had a long time where there was no improvement. It took almost two and a half months to heal so it was a big relief... We didn’t really know how long it would take to heal so I have been waiting and waiting."
Try as they might, Team Sky and König were unable to get to the route of the problem with his knee. Despite constant contact with the team, there were no signs of improvement, and it became a waiting game with no end in sight. Other that working on his core strength, there was little that König could do, and he made use of the time off to catch up on some reading.
“It was one of the things I really enjoyed because I had some time to read a lot of books about a lot of areas,” he said, noting that he had been reading up on mental strength in sport and philosophy.
König will be riding the Tour de Suisse in support of Thomas, who finished second to Simon Spilak last year. He hopes and believes that riding for a potential winner will get him up to speed quickly and, despite the late start, he’s confident that he can be ready for Rio in just two months’ time.
“We’re going to have to work a lot because G is hopefully going to win it so I want to use it as a chance to repay the trust in the team put in me,” he explained. “I’m optimistic even after Suisse that I can be at 100 per cent for nationals, Tour of Poland and the Olympics. Because in 2011, the Tour de Suisse was my starting point and after that I was getting the results for the rest of the season. I am confident that I can carry it out this year again.”
König also has his eyes on a return to the Vuelta a Espana after the Olympic Games. The Vuelta was where König made his name as a Grand Tour rider with ninth place on his debut. There is a chance that he could take up a leadership role there but that all depends on his performances and the team selected to join him.
There is also the issue of a new contract for König to consider with his current deal at Team Sky set to run out at the end of this season. He remained coy on whether he would stay or move on for 2017.
“That’s not a matter for now. I have no information for you about that at the moment,” he said. “Except for the last three months, it has been a really nice time, and I have improved a lot as a rider again. I’ve improved again with my Grand Tour placing. I won a Tour with Froome, which was an unbelievable experience. I’m really happy in the team.”