Anton Palzer: If Chris Froome or Primož Roglič tried my SkiMo times, I'm sure they wouldn't survive this

GCN sits down with Bora-Hansgrohe's Red Bull athlete to discuss his first few years in cycling after transition from ski-mountaineering

Clock17:09, Friday 24th November 2023
Anton Palzer has ridden two Grand Tours since transitioning to cycling from ski-mountaineering

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Anton Palzer has ridden two Grand Tours since transitioning to cycling from ski-mountaineering

One look at an online database and Bora-Hansgrohe's Anton Palzer is just an ordinary cyclist. 30 years of age, no wins on his palmarès but 67 race days under his belt in 2023. If anything, you might assess him to be a late bloomer after only turning professional at the age of 28. But one scratch beneath the surface will reveal one of the more fascinating stories to hit professional cycling in recent years.

Palzer is a former ski-mountaineer extraordinaire who decided to leave the sport at the top of his game and try his hand at what was effectively a passion project. Inspired by the success of Emanuel Buchmann at the 2019 Tour de France, Palzer made the transition from the snow to the tarmac with the support of his long-term sponsor, Red Bull.

Turning professional with Bora-Hansgrohe in 2021, the German has ridden two Grand Tours to date and recently signed a new one-year contract extension with the team who like to call themselves the Band of Brothers. It comes off the back of his greatest vein of form to date.

Palzer finished 12th at the Czech Tour in July, helping his teammates Florian Lipowitz and Ben Zwiehoff finish first and second overall, respectively, in the process. This was soon followed by Palzer's first career podium when Bora-Hansgrohe landed third in the Vuelta a Burgos team time trial.

To end his third season on the WorldTour, the 30-year-old achieved a career-best 10th place overall at the Tour of Türkiye, which included the monstrous Babadag climb - often referred to as the toughest climb in Europe. With a fresh contract signed and gravel ambitions floated by Palzer in the team's press release, it seems the German is only getting better as the years go by.

Now a role model for other aspiring WorldTour riders, Palzer was on hand in September to reveal the news that Patrick Casey and Anatol Friedl had won the Red Bull Junior Brothers programme and would be joining Bora-Hansgrohe's development team, Auto Eder.

Read more: Bora-Hansgrohe reveal the two winners of the Red Bull Junior Brothers programme

Speaking exclusively to GCN over a video call, Palzer not only commented on his partnership with Red Bull - without which he said he would not have "survived ten years in this world of sport" - but also gave an in-depth reflection on his three years in the professional peloton.

Palzer may have ended the season in fine fettle, but it was in the Giro d'Italia that the German perhaps learned the most and settled on his main ambition for 2024.

"The Giro d’Italia was a fantastic experience," Palzer said. "Racing not far from my home was really cool and I would be super, super happy to do the Giro again next year."

For the German, however, it has been a long road to coming away from a Grand Tour with such energy and enthusiasm. Wind the clock back two years and Palzer was finishing the 2021 season with a different array of emotions.

'If you told Chris Froome or Primož Roglič to beat my SkiMo times, they would not survive'

Transitioning from ski-mountaineering, or SkiMo, into professional cycling was always going to be a unique challenge. For starters, SkiMo is an individual sport raced over the winter, whilst cycling is a team sport that lasts on the road from January to October. That is not to mention the escalation in training on the bike, which Palzer noted as increasing from 6,000km per year to 25,000km.

But it was a challenge that enthused Palzer.

"Cycling was always a big passion of mine and I was always the guy sitting for hours in front of the television to see the big guys riding in the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia," he admitted. "The key moment was seeing Emmanuel Buchmann in 2019 when he finished fourth in the Tour. I thought, ‘wow, this is a young guy from Germany' and I soon thought, ‘one time I will do the same.'"

"At this time, I was still happy with SkiMo and I was happy with my life, but things change and during the next couple of years I felt a bit tired of always doing the same thing."

If SkiMo was no longer mentally stimulating, Palzer's first race with Bora-Hansgrohe certainly would be. Only a month after his final SkiMo World Championships, the German took to the start of the 2021 Tour of the Alps as part of Bora-Hansgrohe's support crew for GC hope Matteo Fabbro. It was not just his first professional race, it was the first bike race of his life.

"The Tour of the Alps was terrible," Palzer was blunt. "I think the problem was also being afraid of having an accident or a crash, not that I was afraid about myself, but more afraid of being ruled out of races. Because I knew that I had to do a lot of races to get used to the world of cycling and it's a process."

His commitment to the process is admirable and would certainly be of importance when trying to adjust to riding in a large peloton for the first time and tackling descents at speeds that he had previously dared not imagine.

Palzer admits that the sport was "sometimes not so fun" during his first two years, but his long sporting experience in alpinism and winter sports had taught him to stay level-headed. After all, one could only imagine how the world's best cyclists would fare attempting to transition in the opposite direction.

"If I told Chris Froome or Primož Roglič to try and break my record SkiMo time on one of the biggest mountains in Germany, I am pretty sure that they would not survive this," laughed Palzer. "So my process was normal, and it is different trying to change sports when you are 28 years old than if you are only 20."

Nowhere was the difficulty of this switch more apparent than at Palzer's first Grand Tour, the 2021 Vuelta a España, an experience which the German reflects on as the hardest of his career to date.

From the Vuelta a España to the Volta a Catalunya, Palzer settles into his new profession

At 3336.1 km in length, the Vuelta a España was only Palzer's fifth stage race and it quickly became clear that his body had not yet adjusted to the toils of professional cycling. The neo-pro was able to finish the race, much to his credit, but left the Vuelta a shell of his former self - mentally, if not physically.

"I realise now that I was fucked," Palzer said. "I had gained 10kg because of water in my body, it was really shit."

If the Vuelta was the most difficult experience of his career so far, the 2022 Volta a Catalunya was most certainly his most enjoyable. Heading into the race with the two-pronged attack of Jai Hindley and Sergio Higuita, Bora-Hansgrohe knew they were in with a good shout for the win, and so it proved.

Hindley stumbled at times - though that was to prove no barrier to his Giro d'Italia victory two months later - but Higuita flourished, going on a 134km two-up raid with Richard Carapaz and all but clinching the title on the penultimate stage. Palzer's face lit up when recalling the race.

"That was something really special, you felt the good spirit and motivation that was in the team and Catalunya was like the perfect week. Going home with the GC victory in a WorldTour race is something really special."

Impressing his team bosses throughout 2022 and the beginning of this past season, Palzer was rewarded with a start at his second Grand Tour, and one he had always dreamed of riding, the Giro d'Italia. It offered an insight into the improvements made since the 2021 Vuelta, but posed him an entirely different challenge altogether - extreme weather.

'Surviving this year's Giro was something special with the weather'

Sickness took Palzer in its grasp on the final rest day of this year's Giro d'Italia, but still, the German trooped on to Rome and finished the second Grand Tour of his career. In contrast to the Vuelta in 2021, he held his weight throughout the three weeks and left the race much more assured of himself.

"I took a lot of confidence after the Giro d'Italia. Surviving this year’s Giro was something special with the weather, it was really rough conditions."

As is becoming ever more common due to climate change, the Giro d'Italia was once again battered by extreme weather this year and saw the riders hit by 16 days of rain. Beginning with a peloton of 176 riders, the Giro rolled into Rome numbering 124, an occasion that Palzer made sure to enjoy.

"You have to go through the hard times and then it was a gift to end the Giro in Rome, see my girlfriend at the finish line and know you don’t have to ride your bike the next day.

"It takes perhaps three days and then you feel like it was a cool experience. But for sure during during the Giro, I was like ‘what the fuck are we doing here?’ The Giro is crazy, you do 200km almost every day and if the race profile is just 190km, you still have 12km of neutral."

Over the past seasons, however, Palzer has learned more than enough to see him through three tough weeks of racing. From adjusting his body to the increased workload to becoming more comfortable within the peloton, the former SkiMo athlete has established himself within the Bora-Hansgrohe ranks.

With a new one-year contract to his name, Palzer will now turn his attention to 2024 and should he get the opportunity, perhaps a result for himself might be on the cards next season. Only three years into his professional career, there is a feeling that the Red Bull athlete has a lot more to give over the coming seasons.

"Cycling is about what you have learned. Now, I know that the flat stages in cycling are also easy for me. But when you are completely new in the sport, then also the flat stages are hard for you because of the battle for positioning in the peloton.

"Now I am more into it, cycling has become easier and I can focus on the really hard climbing stages. Cycling is a lot more fun for me now."

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