It is eight years since he achieved seventh place on the Tour de France. Then Leopold rode the world’s most prestigious cycling race in the jersey of NetApp Endura. A year later, the current manager of the greatest local stage race, SAZKA Tour, competed in the jersey of team Sky (now Ineos). And he was a member of the team that took Chris Froome to overall victory.
The thirty-four-year-old ex-professional watched the Grande Boucle whilst undertaking a flurry of duties related to the upcoming race in the Jeseníky and Beskydy hills. "Jonas Vingegaard is a worthy winner," says the native of Moravská Třebová, looking back on the 109th edition of the Tour.
Was the Danish cyclist, riding for Jumbo-Visma, really the best competitor of this year's peloton?
"Yes. He has made incredible progress since last year, when he finished second overall. He is a different rider. Above all, he is able to take responsibility for the whole team. What Roglič failed to do over several years, Vingegaard has managed in two seasons. His record speaks for itself – a second place followed by victory. The fact that he can adapt to the pressure in a team that is one of the best in the world gives him a big advantage. They will count on him for the future."
The majority of pundits still favoured Tadej Pogačar even during the race. Were you leaning towards Vingegaard from the start of the Tour de France?
"From his attitude it seemed that Pogačar was unbeatable. That’s how he appeared. He rode with great awareness. Across all the technical stages and through the first hill climb it looked like he would not face any competition. However, then came the first big hill at high altitude. And this was Pogačar’s great weakness. He will need to focus on it."
Will Pogačar be affected by the loss of this year's Tour de France?
"I think the team will try to get Tadej to lose weight. He seemed very muscular for a high mountain rider; he will have to lose a few kilos. To compete with Vingegaard he needs to improve his riding at high altitude combined with high temperatures."
In your opinion, what was the key moment in the battle for overall supremacy?
"There were three such moments. The first was on the cobles. Vingegaard was lucky that the Tour didn’t end for him there. The second came on the La Planche des Belles Filles where he attacked Pogačar. I think that in doing this he found that even the defending champion is only human. And the third turning point was in the eleventh stage. Repeated attacks with the help of Roglič destroyed Pogačar. Tactically is was a great stage by Jumbo."
The relative strengths of the Jumbo-Visma (Jonas Vingegaard) and UAE Emirates (Tadej Pogačar) teams was the subject of much discussion. In your opinion, which team had the better line-up?
"The competition among domestiques was clearly won by Jumbo. In the opening few stages, Vingegaard had the upper hand in terms of team involvement, while Pogačar remained alone. In the big hills, the situation evened out. Mainly because Majka, as Pogačar's “court domestique”, rode incredibly. Unfortunately for UAE, two of their best riders withdrew - climb specialists Rafal Majka and George Bennett. Then the cards were almost even. Almost, that is, because Jumbo had one name that rose above the others.
Wout van Aert was stunning, wasn't he?
"He’s worth not two, but three domestiques. He can take on any role. He could have gone on himself in several stages, but instead he was the guardian angel of Vingegaard. For example, in the stage over the cobbles, and the nineteenth stage."
The Belgian rode superbly in sprints, on cobbles, on classic stages, over the low hills, on long climbs, he attacked in breakaways... Did he have any weakness at all?
"I can understand it all. It’s just the long climbs I have trouble grasping. There are several all-round riders who are fast, they ride well on low climbs, they are not bad in the time trials, but nobody has ever been at the side of their leader in all stage types and what’s more, in such an aggressive position. Wout van Aert broke the stereotype of a racer's physiology. It is absolutely incredible for the spectators to watch such a rider. If it was said that someone like Sagan is born once in fifty years, then someone like Wout van Aert is born once in five hundred years."
Can a competitor reach such a level through training? Or is it a matter of genetics?
"It's the physiology of the genes. He was just gifted with an incredible cocktail of skills... His big advantage is his ability to regenerate quickly. He can perform excellently repeatedly day after day, which a lot of classicists or sprinters can't do. He has an incredibly high basic performance standard, in which he exceeds the peloton. You have to remember that there are almost 200 of the best people in the world on the Tour de France. When you're going fast, it's not fast for Wout van Aert. He's going well within himself, so he can accelerate at will. He doesn't really care where he rides. His power and all-round ability abounds almost without limit."
Could Jonas Vingegaard win the Tour de France without Wout van Aert?
"Perhaps he would have won, but it would have been much more difficult. At many times Wout van Aert made the difference in reducing the deficit or increasing the lead. For example, in the fifth stage on the cobbles, he literally saved Vingegaard. There, Jumbo could have lost the entire Tour de France. If he had got into the wrong group, Vingegaard would probably have had a big deficit. But Wout van Aert rode like a motorcycle and saved Jonas."
From the Tour de France 2022, Jumbo Visma has the yellow jersey for the overall winner, polka dot for the best climber, and green for the winner of the points competition. Is such a combination even possible?
"The fact is that every year a team dominates. But for them to dominate to the extent that Jumbo did... It's an admirable feat. For example, Sky had the first and second men overall, but those riders did not win a third of the stages, and three out of four jerseys. That's unique. The Tour just suited Jumbo perfectly. The energy in that team worked great."
Will the Tour de France 2022 also go down in history as the end of Primož Roglič's dream of overall victory?
"That is quite possible. Roglič has been attempting to win the Tour for several years. He’s been fourth, second, and then last year and this year he failed to finish. Vingegaard from his two starts has finished second and then tasted victory. The roles are divided, and there has been a symbolic passing of the sceptre. Roglič has a contract until 2025, so the question is whether they will go for two leaders in the future, which is an advantage, but such a situation must be resolved. Vingegaard is the better at time trials, so things don't look too good for Roglič. If he doesn't give up on the dream of an overall Tour victory, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he changes jersey."
Geraint Thomas from Ineos also put in famous performances, although the former champion had to settle for third place.
"He rode his best Tour de France. If it wasn't for the two young powerhouses, Thomas would have won the Tour with ease. The performance manager of the Ineos team revealed that Thomas has better numbers than when he triumphed in 2018. No one could match him in the time trial or in the mountains. At thirty-six years old? He deserves respect. But Vingegaard and Pogačar are simply in a different league."
Will the Tour de France in the future be just about Pogačar and Vingegaard?
"I'm sure someone else will join their battle. But it certainly won't be any of the current members of the peloton. Geraint Thomas was third, but it's hard to improve by eight minutes. I think a worthy opponent for the two best cyclists this year would be Egan Bernal. But after a heavy fall and a bad injury, he remains side-lined."
The average speed of the entire race approached fifty. Has the peloton reached its maximum, or can it still improve?
"It's going to be faster in the future. Cycling is becoming an awful lot more professional. The teams as a whole are getting stronger and stronger; everything in the race is more complex. It's extremely difficult to get into a breakaway. It usually takes an awful long time before a daily breakaway group is formed – everyone is pushing and riding fast. Controlling the race is extremely difficult! The demands on the domestiques are greater. The racing style is more aggressive. There are no longer any “transport stages” on the itinerary, where you ride on the flat for 240 kilometres. This year's stages were more dynamic, shorter and demanded a more aggressive approach."
While Geraint Thomas, two years older than you, finished third at the Tour de France, you, in the role of director, are preparing for the SAZKA Tour. Did you get nostalgic?
"Not at all. It's nice to see guys I raced with still out there who are older than me. Chris Froome was able to come back after a serious injury; I'm proud of him. Geraint Thomas rode the twelfth Tour de France as the leader of the richest team in the world, he knows how to motivate himself. So rather than nostalgia, I feel great admiration for the racers."