'Simon Yates is asking me how I manage to keep up': Bora-Hansgrohe's skier-turned-cyclist on adapting to life in the pro peloton

Anton Palzer was one of the best ski mountaineers in the world, before switching sport and heading directly to the WorldTour in April this year

Anton Palzer at the Tour of the Alps 2021 (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For all of those bored to death by the mentions that Primož Roglič used to be a ski jumper, fear not!

Bora-Hansgrohe announced last year they would be signing prominent ski mountaineer Anton 'Toni' Palzer for the 2021 season, the German swapping the snow for tarmac in April after his final skiing commitments were done.

A friend of the team's Austrian rider Lukas Pöstlberger, Palzer has been in conversation with Bora-Hansgrohe management for some time and harboured dreams of switching to cycling for a while, impressing the German team when he joined them at a training camp last summer. "It was soon clear that some of his performance values, such as his V02 max, were exceptional," said coach Helmut Dollinger.

Palzer has now completed his first-ever pro race, having lined up at the Tour of the Alps, coming inside the top 100 on each stage and finishing 47th overall, only 20 minutes behind race winner Simon Yates (BikeExchange).

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Both the 28-year-old and his sports directors say he's doing better than they could have hoped.

"It's going better than I or the sports directors expected. I am surprised that I can just ride along. You just have to look not at the ranking, but at the time gap to first place," Palzer told Sueddeutsche. "I was able to maintain this gap over four hours of riding, 3,000 meters of altitude and 165 kilometres. So I'm already satisfied with my performance. But the final punch is still missing."

As well as getting acquainted with the demands of the peloton, he's also started meeting its members, who have been complimentary about his seemingly flawless transition across sports.

"On Wednesday, for example, I met Simon Yates and Gianni Moscon at the doping control. They asked me how I actually do it - that I can keep up, even though just a month ago I was only on skis. My team-mate Felix Großschartner also said that I was doing really well. That makes me happy."

Anton Palzer at the Tour of the Alps (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Palzer says he can't yet bring 100 per cent of the power he is used to using on skis to riding, but that cardiovascularly he doesn't reach his limit, even at altitude.

"You really have to go over the limit very often. About ten to 20 times a day," Palzer says of what it's like to ride in a WorldTour peloton. "And that's just so that you can keep up at all. At some points it gets easier again...then you ride in the slipstream on flat roads, for example. You simply can't give up. You really have to polish your face a few times in order to keep up. You must never lose heart."

He says his threshold power is 370 watts, and that in the first three minutes of a climb you're exceeding 500 watts, but when he sees riders of Chris Froome's stature struggling it gives him confidence.

"I'm still lacking the race hardness. I've even ridden next to Chris Froome a few times now. The guy has won the Tour de France four times. And he just burst away, he couldn't take it anymore. If he's already so beat up, what do I want?" he said.

For now, it looks like the decision to trade skis for a saddle has paid off, but Palzer's not stopping there and expects big things of himself in the years to come.

"It was the right decision [to switch sport]. I'm mega motivated to become really good at the sport and I also believe that I can do that," Palzer said. "When I look at what I can do now with just zero experience and zero bike kilometres. I'm convinced that I'll be able to do something good in a few years."

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