Talent, discipline, motivation. That’s what you need to be successful in sport. On top of that, an excellent education and training in a sports school, high performance centre, junior national team or similar institution are an advantage, as well as an early a start as possible in the sport. After all, why wait until you’re a teenager to learn the basics when they can be mastered at just 8 years old? But is that really the case?
BORA – hansgrohe / Anderl Hartmann
BORA – hansgrohe / Sprintcycling
BORA – hansgrohe / Jan Brychta
michal červený photography
A head start?
Supposedly, starting a sport at an earlier age increases the chances of lasting success. Many sports stars discovered their passion not long after they started to walk or their parents immersed them in it as soon as they were born. BORA – hansgrohe pros like Bob Jungels, Jai Hindley and Danny van Poppel started their cycling carriers at the tender age of six as their parents were also professional cyclists. Other sports are often tried out before cycling. Ryan Mullen outperformed all of the other kids at rugby, Marco Haller was an ambitious ice hockey player and Patrick Gamper was junior skibobbing world champion a number of times. All of them were also keen cyclists and by their teenage years were solely focusing on this sport on two wheels. But there are exceptions – true late starters. The background stories of Florian Lipowitz, Ben Zwiehoff, Victor Koretzky and Anton Palzer from BORA – hansgrohe are testimony to that.
From ski mountaineering to biathlon, then mountain biking to road cycling? Easy!
Anton “Toni” Palzer is proof of that. The well-known story of his transformation from world-class ski mountaineer and mountain runner to two-times Grand Tour finisher has so many sides to it that it would overflow this page. If you want to find out more, we warmly recommend the documentary “Breaking the Cycle”. At a comparatively late age of 27, Toni dared to venture into a completely different world – that of top-level professional cycling with BORA – hansgrohe. This was triggered by breathtaking endurance data in performance tests, Toni’s “old love” of cycling and his collaboration with BORA – hansgrohe coach Helmut Dollinger.
Florian Lipowitz has an equally impressive CV. A junior national squad member in biathlon before moving to the mountains with his family at the age of 15, he completed his secondary education at the renowned Tyrol ski school in Stams. However, injuries followed, forcing him to train more on the bike. At the age of 18, he entered a couple of cycling marathons “for fun”. But things got serious when dark horse Florian finished high up in the rankings, even achieving some wins. At 19 he joined the team Tirol KTM at the Continental level, took part in professional cycling races and once again astonished the established riders. His entry in the WorldTour 2023 followed, culminating the same year in an impressive overall win in the Czech Cycling Tour. To be continued…
And then there are the two mountain bikers Ben Zwiehoff and Victor Koretzky. Many of the current pro cyclists finished their first amateur races on wider tyres and went on to compete at a higher level. However, in good time they switched to the road where professional frameworks were in place to give them greater opportunities to earn a living from sport. Both of them were 27 when they made the transition. As a mountain biker, Ben had been aiming to take part in the Olympics but his dream was unfortunately shattered by the pandemic. A record-breaking test on the turbo trainer then paved his way into road cycling and BORA – hansgrohe. In his very first year, he became an established member of the team but was still able to breathe in the air on the trails in the Cape Epic MTB race in South Africa with Lennard Kämna. In the meantime, he’s snatched several top ten spots in road stage races, including second place in the Czech Cycling Tour.
Victor Koretzky has only been riding on the road since 2022 and since then has been keeping his options open. He’s still hugely successful off road as, since his world championship gold as a junior in 2011, he’s bagged the silver in the short track event at the 2023 MTB world championships and fourth place in the most prestigious discipline – the MTB cross-country Olympic race. It goes without saying that an Olympic gold medal in Paris in 2024 is still his main goal and he won’t be giving up mountain biking anytime soon. Nonetheless, his appearances on the road show great promise.
The 101 of road cycling
Whether switching to the road from another cycling discipline or from a completely different sport: at the beginning, there’s a lot to learn – this jump into the deep end is hard and also painful. Lab and performance tests may produce good numbers but if you’re unable to reproduce them out on the road, you’ve no chance. From fighting for a position in the peloton, quick reaction times and skilful manoeuvres as the pace picks up, being able to “read” a race, take drinks bottles from support staff on the roadside or the team car to getting changed on the bike: everything has to be learned. A switch from a solo sport often comes down to complex team tactics, where every rider has to play their very own part, whether it’s being the first to ride over the finish line or helping to get the winner across and rolling over it in 100th place yourself. As a newcomer you have to accept a subordinate role and learn, learn, learn. Thanks to their similar physiques, all four of these career changers at BORA – hansgrohe are strong riders in the hills. There, it’s not so much a question of tactics, but more of true performance on the bike; a blend of talent, skills, discipline and motivation rather than years of training.