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Konig paces Netapp’s strong Tour de France debut

NIMES, France (VN) — Eighth in the Tour de France? That’s something even a first division team would be proud of, let alone a second division team. With one week to race, German team NetApp-Endura is sitting in good position with Leopold Konig 9:32 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).

Sport director Enrico Poitschke told VeloNews, “Normally, the bigger teams are in a better place to do well, but we are doing a good job.”

He leaned against the team’s blue and white team car Sunday morning in Tallard. Ahead, the team camper bus sat in the shadow of the first division teams’ mega-buses as Czech cyclist Konig prepared inside. The atmosphere was tense, said team manager Ralph Denk, because wind and rain in southern France had the potential to blow apart the 15th stage to Nimes and destroy Konig’s hopes.

Konig survived with the top teams to Nimes and placed among the best classification riders outside the Roman arena to maintain his eighth spot. It is an honor, given the team was selected to race under the Tour’s wildcard invitation system.

NetApp is one of 22 teams in the race and one of only four second division teams invited to race by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO). Konig is the only second division rider in the top 15. You have to go to 19th spot to find another second division rider, Brice Feillu from France’s Bretagne-Séché Environnement squad.

“We were hoping to be in this place,” Denk added. “We’re happy to be in this spot after the Alpine stages, but we still have tough days ahead of us and we are going to have to defend it. If we take it to Paris, then we are truly happy.”

The 26-year-old Konig placed third Friday behind Nibali up the summit finish to Chamrousse. On Saturday, he rode to ninth on the Risoul climb. It was not a complete surprise as he won a stage at the 2013 Vuelta a España ahead of Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo).

“We knew that Leo has a big potential,” Denk added. “He sometimes has health problems and isn’t always steady, but now everything is going smoothly. He had a crash with Andrew Talansky [in the La Mauselaine stage], he lost three minutes, so without that, he could potentially be in the top five.”

The potential placing that NetApp could have in Paris means a great deal for the team’s future. It already rode the 2012 Giro d’Italia and the 2013 Vuelta a España, but this year it debuted in the Tour and needed to impress ASO for future invitations.

If the placing is not enough, the team has a new title sponsor — Bora — for the next five years. It could help revitalize German cycling, which has not had a top team since Milram and suffered from the Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile doping scandals.

“I have to thank ASO for its trust. We now want to come again to the Tour with our new sponsor Bora,” Denk said.

“Other organizers can see our result here. In the Giro d’Italia two years ago, we were twice second, we won a stage in the Vuelta last year and this year, we are going well in the Tour — they can trust us.”