Rider Announcement: Petr Vakoc

Former WorldTour pro Petr Vakoc is the first of our 2024 interviews.

In an eight year career Petr rode for both Quickstep Floors and Alpecin-Fenix, bagging an average one win per season with victories at Brabantse Pijl, stages of the Tour of Poland and Tour of Britain, and the Czech road title. 

After helping team mate Mathieu van der Poel into the Tour de France yellow jersey in 2021, the following year Petr turned to mountain biking, and began last year with a remarkable 7th place at the Cape Epic. On the gravel the 31 year-old Czech rider finished second racing the Garmin UNBOUND for the first time, then won two TREK UCI Gravel World Series races.

Such success is remarkable after he was left with severe injuries after being hit by a truck while training with his Quick-Step Floors team in South Africa in early 2018. He was lucky to be alive let alone return to competition. 

Gralloch: How hard was the crash to get over?

PV: “Mentally there was this kind of fear, like subconscious, that when I was on the road again and racing I would always just look behind or where a car was passing. I was working on it with a psychologist, but I have to admit I was always afraid about crashing in the race, but this happened on a training ride there was very little traffic, and we had a coach in the car behind most of the time. There was a very small window when something can happen - and it happened. 

“I could progress quite fast to a decent level [afterwards], even a really good shape, but I had some issues with some of the nerves in the left leg, so I lost some power. I managed to get it back, but I didn’t get back the same speed. I was used to being able to win races from a small group and suddenly it was not possible. 

“It was a big decision to leave Quickstep the year after that, I just wanted to change the environment and a chance to try and go for the wins, and if not I can be an asset as a team captain. 

"But I was really close to having a serious injury and I was very lucky that I can function normally let alone race again, so in the end mentally I was probably more grateful to just be healthy and alive than to struggle with this.”


The Gralloch: Tell us about getting into cycling in the Czech Republic.

PV: “It was thanks to my parents, we would spend the weekends and holidays in a very active way, in winter skiing and in summer riding bikes, we just loved being outdoors. 

“I have two brothers, one of them is less than three years younger than me, so we would do a lot of things together, we tried all kinds of sports and we were very competitive. My father signed up for a mountain bike race and there was a kids’ competition and we signed up together. Then we wanted to do it again and again.

“We found some friends and we just forced our parents to do all those races round Prague and all over the Czech Republic. Together with my parents, the parents of my friends it was like a small team and they were taking us everywhere. 

“I did some road races and I quite enjoyed it but when I was around 13, 14 years old the team we had with the other parents stopped. In Prague there was not a proper mountain bike team and my brother wanted to go on the road, he went to a really good road and track team and in the end I said OK.”

Gralloch: You joined Quickstep in 2014, what were your road career highlights? I remember you winning Brabantse Pijl in 2016.

PV: “It was my favourite moment for sure.

“I am really good at one minute all-out efforts and I love the climbs, I always knew that if there was an uphill sprint or uphill one minute climb then I can win. I saw this [Brabantse Pijl] and I was like ‘I want to win this race and I know how I want to win it.’ 

“The first time it didn’t happen, the second time it didn’t happen then the third time I was in really good shape with some victories and good results. I ended up being in the select group in the end and we came to the climb, I was there with Julian Alaphilippe [teammate], he helped me and and in the climb I went all out from the bottom. It was something I put in my head, I wanted to do good and I did it. 

“I did a similar thing in one of the races that helped me to turn pro, the European Championships Under 23 in Czech Republic. Two years before we did the national championships there [in Olomouc] I was like ‘ok when there will be the European championships I want to be on the podium’, and I finished second [beating Alaphilippe among others.] That was a very emotional thing, something you dream of and then it happens.”


The Gralloch: Tell me about the Cape Epic last year. 

PV: “It was something I had in my mind for a long time, I grew up racing mountain bike and we have some Czech riders who won. I used train with them, I was like ‘hey guys I want to race mountainbike again and do the the Cape Epic!’

“It was a last moment decision, and despite not being completely prepared it was a super nice experience. I had big expectation but it’s really exceeded that both in terms of how I performed but also the race, it was a really nice experience.

“They say it’s like the Tour de France of mountain biking, obviously you cannot compare it with the Tour de France in my opinion, but the race itself was really nice, it was hard, it was well organised, the experience of the racing and the scenery is just so beautiful, amazing trails and amazing nature, it’s really cool.

“I was surprised how tough it was, it’s just eight days but it’s all-out racing every day, I felt like after a Grand Tour after the week of racing. Racing on the road I always did well after a Grand Tour, so in this sense it really worked, just put a huge amount of stress on the body that I could benefit for weeks and months to come.”

The Gralloch: And you went pretty well at UNBOUND, you were second!

PV: “I probably also had some beginner’s luck! I was on the way there I was asking people which tyres should I use and what do I need to bring with me. I had no idea what to expect and with the crazy mud there I didn’t make the best decisions, then I had some flat tyres. With luck I could come back, even though I almost lost the race in the feed zone because I needed to get my bike fixed.

“Then the group was away and I had to chase, so I did quite a few mistakes but still managed to fight on, so it was so lucky that it worked out in the end.

“The sprint was a bit unfortunate because I had information that we would have a clear finish line or a sort of corridor to sprint, which wasn’t the case, and suddenly the finish line was there and I was gone. I am still proud of the results and it really opened the opportunities for the rest of the season and it was a huge motivation because I did so many things wrong and I still could contest the win. 

“So I was was like I want to race again and again and from there I pretty much signed to every race I could.

“I had my own [Canyon] bike that I bought two years before, it was the GRIZL, which is not a proper racing bike, but at least it had good tyre clearance. I rode a crankset so I could have a power meter and slightly bigger chainring. I would have liked something a bit more aero but it somehow worked out and I’m glad that I persisted.”

The Gralloch: Since then you’ve picked up sponsors?

PV: “I’m now with Canyon, pretty much after UNBOUND we started talking, so that was the first sponsor I had from halfway through last year. I was with Isadore, a clothing brand from Slovakia, founded by Martin and Peter Velits, former riders, I had their clothes for UNBOUND but they will be a proper sponsor. SRAM and ZIPP, their drive trains and wheels, and Schwalbe for tyres. 

“Another big sponsor is Orange Seal they make sealant for tyres, they’re big in the US and it’s very good. I have two smaller brands from the Czech Republic called Integray and L27 software companies which sponsors a small team of my good friend and training partner, so we tried to connect some of our sponsors.”

The Gralloch: Do you think gravel is the perfect crossover for people who ride MTB or road?

PV: “It depends from person to person, but for me it’s really amazing because it’s ticking so many boxes. I’m the type of rider who has always been good chasing the breakaway or being in the breakaway and going hard all day then being able to do well in the final.

“And thanks to my mountain bike experience I have enough skills to be one of the best on gravel, even though on the mountain bike among the pros I’m towards the lower end, it’s enough on the gravel.”

I think if you’re like a classics rider or a breakaway specialist and if you have enough technical skills and like going hard it’s amazing. You have to also like organising things and the sort of entrepreneurship, as a whole I really love it."

Ready to race against Petr? Get your entry for The Gralloch 2024 at: www.grallochgravel.com/registration