What a 2013 for the 26 year old Czech rider. In his 2nd season for Team NetApp-Endura he exceeded all expectations with an amazing stage win in the Vuelta and 9th place on GC. It really put his team on the map and made them favourite to land an invite to the Tour de France in 2014.
His season started fairly slowly, but exploded into life at the Tour of California. He won the Queen stage climbing up Mount Diablo and finished a very respectable 8th in the ITT, this put him into 11th on the GC. He was sitting in 9th place at the Dauphine before having to retire from the race, having finished a very credible 12th in the ITT. He won his home race, the Czech Cycling Tour, finished 3rd on stage 6 in the Tour of Poland, before his brilliant Vuelta. He was very close to winning stage 2, but finished 4th, before claiming stage 8. A bout of illness stopped his GC bid, but he hung on to claim 9th.
Here is an interview I did with Leo:-
How pleased are you with your season?
It’s been the most successful one so far in terms of results, so I´m really satisfied. But even more important is the fact that my progress with Team NetApp-Endura increases every year.
You seem to go well in America, 3rd in Utah in 2012 and a stage win this year in California, what is it about the racing there that suits you?
Generally, I like racing out there with the huge crowds, good organisation and balanced courses.
How important is the Czech Cycling Tour to you?
Personally it’s very important, as it is currently the biggest stage race in Czech and it’s not every day that I can race on home soil.
Did your good performance in the Dauphine, confirm that you have the potential to challenge in grand tours?
I think so. I could prove, not only to myself, that I´m able to do those big races focusing on GC and so my Grand Tour ambitions were one level higher.
You started the Vuelta in amazing shape, with a powerful attack on stage 2 but lost out to Roche. Was this start important mentally?
I say to everyone that without this attack I wouldn´t have won stage 8 and so it was a big thing to try it right from the start of the Vuelta and earn some confidence ahead of tougher stages.
You viewed a number of stages before the race, was Alto de Penas Blancas one of the climbs you looked at?
No, I saw this climb for the very first time when racing so I was pretty nervous about the final 2-3km as I didn´t know what to expect.
When you caught Igor Anton and it looked like you would win, what thoughts went through your head at that time?
I was scared that there might be one more rider out there but I didn’t see anybody. So I quickly realized that I am really the first one over the line.
You finished a strong 11th in the ITT, a GC rider must be good in this discipline and you are. How much training do you do on the TT bike?
I don’t train really much on the TT bike and rather do some power based TT training. Over three years now I´ve improved more than 50% in the TT, so we are doing things in the right way.
You then got sick and struggled on during some of the stages, how hard was it to ride stages when not 100%?
Extremely hard… my status went from a “GC contender” to status “just survive and don’t abandon”. But we fought a lot like a team and in the most difficult moments, my team helped me not to lose more than 3 minutes on the stage to Sierra Nevada.
Just how pleased were you with finishing 9th?
It could have been even better without sickness but the fact that this was my first Grand Tour makes it really special and an extraordinary result.
In 2014, it looks like NetApp-Endura will get a wildcard (thanks to your Vuelta) for the Tour de France. How exciting would it be to ride your 1st Tour?
A Tour participation is of course something everyone in the cycling world dreams about and if it would really come true, it would be the highlight of my career so far. For sure we are doing everything possible to make it happen.
The Tour will feature a number of iconic climbs and a long ITT, this seems well suited to your skills, what would your target be?
If we would get invited and this decision is in the hands of the organizer, then I would naturally focus on GC and pick some stages just like I did in the Vuelta.
What other races will you be looking to do well in before the Tour?
We have done a rough first plan looking at possible races like the Bayern-Rundfahrt and the Dauphiné to do well in. Although for the Dauphiné we will need a wildcard from the organizer first, to race it. That’s why it’s rough first plan, so far.
What type of climb suits you best: short and steep or long and steady?
I would say that in the end it doesn´t matter. When I have good legs I could do everything but punchy short steep climbs.
What are your goals for 2014?
As mentioned before, the biggest goal / wish would be to ride the Tour and focus on some high profile stage races.