The last time we spoke to Australia’s Zak Dempster was at the end of 2011; after six years as a pro – the first four in Australian domestic teams – and a false start with one of the sport’s all too numerous ‘non teams,’ (Cycling Club Bourgas) the 23 year-old Victorian had enjoyed a stellar 2011 UK domestic season with Rapha Condor Sharp.
He won the Tour Doon Hame (formerly the Girvan three day, and after the Tour of Britain, the UK’s most prestigious stage race, but now defunct) and the UK’s answer to Paris-Roubaix, the East Midlands Classic (also known as The Rutland) and a stage in the UCI ranked Ronde de l’Oise in France. His reward was a stagiaire place with Bob Stapleton’s ‘mega team’ HTC for the Tour of Utah – but the good news was immediately countered by the bleak announcement that the team had been unable to secure another sponsor and was folding at the end of the season. Nonetheless, Dempster grabbed the opportunity with both hands as a chance to sample the delights of Pro Tour level racing and to display his talents to a wider audience.
Season 2012 saw the Condor team change direction and become a development team; Dempster moved to Endura Racing picking up wins on the UK criterium circuit, not to mention a stage in the Czech Cycling Tour.
For this season he was one of the Endura riders retained when the team merged with Germany’s NetApp team to become NetApp-Endura. He’s had a busy year with starts in the Tour Down Under, Tours of Qatar and Oman, Tirreno, De Panne and California. And a sixth place in the recent Surrey Classic in London announced that his form is good; just in time for the biggest test of his career – La Vuelta.
It’s long way from his roots as a track rider – Dempster was a multiple Australian junior and U23 champion in races as diverse as the junior points and U23 time trial. He also won the prestigious Bendigo madison with Mitchell Docker in 2006 whilst being capable of winning the marathon 299 kilometre Melbourne-Warnambool in 2008 and a stage in the Tour of Japan – he’ll need all of that versatility as he looks into the second half of his circuit of the Iberian peninsula.
PEZ caught up with him on the first rest day as he waited on the call for dinner.
PEZ: Tell us about your rest day please, Zach.
We had a sleep in, I did some stretching, rode the bike for around two hours, massage, more stretching and now I’m waiting on dinner.
PEZ: Your first Grand Tour – is it what you expected?
In some ways; there are parts are whole lot easier than I thought they might but sometimes the climbs are so much harder than they look in the race manual. You always have to be alert, looking ahead – but so far I’ve not felt that I’ve been in danger, I’ve been contributing to the team’s effort, doing my job.
PEZ: Any surprises?
Not really a surprise but I’m very happy with how strong the team is riding; this race is at another level but we’re having an effect on the race – especially on the day when our Leo Konig won the stage. You never know when you’re training, you might feel like you’re in great shape but until the racing starts you don’t actually know – our guys are all obviously going very well.
PEZ: What about all those mountains?
Some of them have been very tough; but a lot of the time my job is finished by the second last climb – I have to get Leo Konig and David De La Cruz into a good position to start the climb and then get to the finish conserving as much energy as I can. There are so many guys on the race with a similar job; every rider in a team has his purpose.
There’s no point wasting a lot of energy to finish in 60th spot – better to conserve your energy for the next day.
PEZ: And the heat?
I’m pretty used to that so it’s not a problem – I much prefer it to the snow!
Well covered up in the cold at Het Nieuwsblad earlier this year.
PEZ: Tell us about your day when Leo won the stage.
We originally had Bartosz Huzarski in the break but the other guys in the breakaway forced him to sit up because he was too far up the GC and would mean the break would get chased down. He came back and we set about chasing the break down – my job was to fetch bottles for Leo and keep him out of the wind – and after the boys had ridden on the front for 150 K I did 10 K as hard as I could to position Leo well for the finish climb. After the stage it took a while for us all to be together around the dinner table but we enjoyed a quiet glass of champagne to celebrate.
Leo getting his big win on Stage 8. More to come from NetApp-Endura this Vuelta?
PEZ: I heard you got hassle from the other teams for chasing.
Yeah, I had quite a few ‘what are you doings’ form other teams – we were definitely setting a hard tempo to stay within reach of the break but what matters is the goals of the team – not anyone else’s.
PEZ: What’s been the toughest day?
Yesterday, Stage 10 was pretty tough; it was hard from the start with the first 60 or 70 K flat out over four and five kilometre climbs – the break just wouldn’t go and then when it did it was too big. Katusha weren’t happy so they chased for maybe another 20 K – and then the final two climbs were very hard.
I got in a good sized group and was able to conserve energy – but there were still guys dropping out of my group. You have to think about the fact that you might have a bad day so you have to have a little in reserve if that happens. I’ve been getting through the race doing my job so haven’t experienced a bad day; but I’m conscious that I might, so you have to conserve a little energy when you can in case of that eventuality.
PEZ: The first week has been pretty crazy with guys really going for it – but there are still two weeks to race.
Definitely, but you have to take your chance if it comes along and do absolutely everything within your power to get the big result – you can’t think about tomorrow. There are a few stages coming up where I’ll be looking to take my chances if the opportunity arises.
PEZ: I hear Leo was a little sick, yesterday?
He’s much better today, up and about – I’m sure he’ll be fine for the time trial, tomorrow.
PEZ: How will you tackle the time trial?
It’s an important day – the day after the rest day is one where you have to blow the cobwebs away. There’s a substantial climb in the parcours but I won’t be out to set the world on fire. The two days after the time trial are flat and I hope to be competitive in those – after that we have three days in the Pyrenees which will be three of the toughest days of the whole race. I’ll need everything I have to give the team support over those three days.
Look for Dempster in the breaks in the coming days at the Vuelta like here at the Het Nieuwsblad.
PEZ: And there’s the Angliru in the last week.
I’ve put that to the back of my mind; even yesterday I didn’t think about looking forward to the rest day – you have to focus 100% on the job in hand. But yeah, the Angliru is one of the first climbs you read about when you get into the sport – I remember buying a Cycle Sport magazine when I was young and seeing pictures of Ulrich and Heras battling up there.
PEZ: Can NetApp-Endura win another stage?
We’re 100% capable of it. It’s not a ‘given’ but the we’re not here to cruise around Spain – we’ve all fought hard to get in shape for this race and management has worked hard to get us rides in these great races so yes, we’ll be fighting hard for another stage win.
PEZ: What are you most looking forward to after the race, a beer, pizza?
I’ve not had a beer for a while . . .
But the good thing on a Grand Tour is that you can pretty much eat what you want so you don’t get cravings for food. And I’m not worried about going out and having a wild time – it’ll be nice to sit peacefully out on my balcony with friends and a sip cold beer. But again, I’m not thinking about that, all my focus and energies are about doing my job and getting to Madrid – not what comes after that.
PEZ: Who’s gonna win?
It’s hard to say – all the GC guys have been going to their limit every day so they must be fatigued. I think the race will turn a few times before we get to Madrid as guys have good days and bad days – it’ll all be much clearer after the three Pyrenean stages. Horner is going really well but he could crack and lose 10 minutes – Valverde and Rodriguez have to be tired from the Tour . . .
Leo’s been sick but he’ll be back in the reckoning in the Pyrenees, I’m sure.
# With thanks to Zach and team Press Officer Sandra Schmitz for their co-operation; we hope to speak to Zach again on the second rest day to hear about those three days in the Pyrenees. #