Just over 100 days ago, German ski-mountaineer and mountain runner Anton Palzer made a career change. Palzer swapped mountaineering for cycling, riding his first road race for the UCI World Team BORA-hansgrohe on the Tour of the Alps. Since then, he hasn't rested on his laurels, taking part in the Tour de Suisse and other cycling stage races in Romania and Italy.
In preparation for the second half of the season, he’s currently at an altitude training camp in Ötztal, Austria, from where he took time out to tell us what he’s learnt this past three months as a professional road cycling athlete. If you follow these eight tips and advice, you may one day be able to join the peloton, too.
I counted my kilometres [over 12,000] rather than the days. Basically, I've been learning something new almost every day
1. Save energy by riding in the slipstream
Want to ride fast but with less effort? Then make sure you get in the slipstream of another rider to save energy but keep up the speed everyone else is travelling at.
"Whenever possible, keep your head out of the wind," says Palzer.
He recommends a posture bent low over the handlebars for efficient slipstream riding. Once you feel safe and comfortable, you can work riding up close (up to a few centimetres) to the person in front in order to get the maximum effect.
2. Positioning going onto a climb is super important
Palzer’s previous experience as a ski mountaineer only helped him to a limited extent.
“I got dropped several times [at the Tour of Alps]. There is a big difference running up a mountain or and when you climb it by bike.”
You have to ride a mountain at a very high speed. In this regard, it's important to position yourself at the front of the field a few kilometres before the climb, so you don't get caught out when the speed racks up.
3. Hydrating and staying cool eases the suffering
Three bottles or one and a half litres of water/drink mix per hour is Palzer's rule of thumb. Ice on your back under your jersey also provides great cooling in hot conditions.
“The wind can be tricky in these conditions. You don't really notice that your body is sweating,” Palzer adds.
At his last race, the Settimana Ciclistica Italiana in Sardinia, Palzer got sunstroke, which was a warning that he needs to look after this aspect of being on the bike when riding in sunny conditions.
4. Getting into a break can bring rewards
Palzer's team-mates at BORA-hansgrohe benefited from these tactics at the recent Tour de France. Nils Politt and the Austrian champion Patrick Konrad secured stage wins after escaping from the field in a break.
"If the break group consists of between five and 15 riders, the chances of getting through to the finish before the main peloton increases," explains Palzer.
At the same time, he warns against over-pacing: "To better manage my strength, I always imagine a long stage as a lot of small races and set myself limits."
5. It can take time to find the best place to be in the peloton
Palzer admits to finally feeling at home in the peloton at the Sibiu Tour in Romania in July.
"It takes time to develop a feeling for where you should be."
Being on on the outside of the main bunch of riders is tempting to avoid crashes and mass falls should they happen if riding centrally. But being on the outside costs you a lot more energy. A central position between the first 25 to 50 riders is the optimal place to be, says Palzer.
6. Be aware and alert always
Avoiding touching the wheels of other riders involves maximum concentration. Equally, avoiding potholes and road furniture in the middle of a road means you have to be forward-thinking, but that isn't always possible when you're in the main bit of the peloton. Palzer has a clever tip, though.
“I always keep an eye on the heads of the other drivers. If they move abruptly, that is a kind of warning sign of a pothole or other obstacle is coming up on the road."
It takes time to develop a feeling for where you should be
7. If you crash, try and minimise the damage
Palzer nearly crashed in the wet during his racing in Sardinia while going around a roundabout. He was just able to keep himself on the bike with his team-mate Felix Großschartner supporting him.
“If a crash cannot be prevented, I advise against insane manoeuvres where there is a guard rail or another solid object. That is the worst case and ends with serious injuries."
8. Crosswinds are not the cyclists friend
A strong crosswind can often blow the peloton apart if the speed at the front of the race is high. It's something a pro cyclist will eventually come across in their career, and for Palzer, his first experience of riding in a crosswind came in Sardinia.
"A crosswind in a race can mean war," explains Palzer.
There is a way of riding in crosswinds. Riders stagger themselves (riding slightly overlapped) across the road as a way of protecting each other from the wind. You have to maintain riding in that staggered formation at the same pace as the rider who's on the front of the group or you'll find yourself losing contact with the group. To make it more efficient and for a lead rider to recover, riders will take turns riding at the front.
"Everyone has to perform as well as the person in front," says Palzer. "Once you fall out of the group, you can hardly keep up."