After six years as a pro – the first four in Australian domestic teams – and a false start with one of the sport’s too numerous ‘non teams,’ the 23 year-old Victorian has enjoyed a stellar 2011 UK domestic season with Rapha Condor Sharp – winning the Tour Doon Hame (formerly the Girvan three day, and after the Tour of Britain, the UK’s most prestigious stage race) 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.
A happy winner at the Tour Doon Hame.
His reward was a stagiaire place with Bob Stapleton’s ‘mega team’ 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.
Originally a track rider, Dempster was a multiple Australian junior and U23 champion in races as diverse as the junior points and U23 time trial.
Spent after a hard day of racing at the Tour de Langkawi with the AIS team.
He also won the prestigious Bendigo madison with Mitchell Docker in 2006 whilst also being capable of winning the marathon 299 kilometre Melbourne-Warnambool in 2008 and a stage in the Tour of Japan.
He took time recently to talk to PEZ as he was en route to the UCi 1.2 GP des Marbriers in France (where Rapha team mate Kristian House finished second) about the experience.
PEZ: Utah was your only ride with HTC, Zak?
Zak Dempster: Yes, Utah was a very good experience, I really enjoyed it.
It was very different to my usual role as team leader in a Continental team where I can do my own thing – at HTC everything was focussed on Tejay Van Garderen and the contribution we could make for him.
There was a possibility of riding more one day races with HTC but they clashed with the Tour of Britain, which is an important event for our Rapha Condor Sharp team.
PEZ: How did the Utah altitude affect you?
ZD: Pretty hard, but I spent 10 days in Livigno in the Alps before I travelled to Utah – it was good to have that behind me.
I arrived in Salt Lake City before the race – that’s at 1,320 metres; but I think that the altitude was even more of a factor in the Tour of Colorado than Utah.
PEZ: A shock when HTC folded?
ZD: Absolutely, I’d been speaking to them since the spring; I was confident that they’d find another sponsor – it was such a marketable team.
It doesn’t say much for cycling when a team like that can’t get a new sponsor.
PEZ: Tell us about CC Bourgas from Bulgaria.
ZD: I rode for Drapac in 2006 then South Australia in 2007/2008; I went to Bourgas in 2009
I’d been on the Aussie track programme but had been getting good results on the road; Frankie Van Hasebroucke approached me about joining Bourgas – which was actually a Belgian based team.
I was younger then and believed the 100 promises – starting as a Continental team then going to Pro Continental, and all the rest.
But the team fell apart before it had really started – it was a farce, I should have stayed in Australia.
I went back to Drapac and that’s the reason that nowadays I’m sceptical when I hear teams talking about plans to ‘ride the Tour in three years!’
At the Tour of Turkey with the ill-fated Bourgas team.
PEZ: How did you get the Rapha ride?
ZD: I knew Rapha riders Tom Southam and Kristian House from their times racing in Australia.
And the Rapha manager, John Herety (ex-British professional champion and Peace Race stage winner) had seen me race in the Tour of Britain; we spoke at the end of 2008 – I should have gone with them then, but joined in 2010.
PEZ: You started off as a track rider in Australia; you won a lot of races on the velodromes.
ZD: Yes but I ended up disappointed with selection decisions; I guess that’s the nature of cycling – and you have to respect the selector’s choices.
I enjoyed the track but started to get strong road results and the team pursuit programme was preparation based – you only raced four or five events each year.
That preparation also inhibits your base training, with the track Worlds being in the spring, if you’re preparing for them it means you’re not doing the kilometres you need to set you up for the road season.
I think you’ll see much more from Jack Bobridge and Cameron Meyer on the road in 2013 once they have the Olympics behind them.
I like to race – 80 or 90 days a year.
PEZ: What do you put your dominant 2011 UK season down to?
ZD: It’s a product of attitude, in 2010 I was inconsistent, I had spells where I rode really well but I just wasn’t desperate enough.
I understand the principles of preparation from my track days – eliminate the variables – but in 2010 I was too cautious.
This year I’ve not been afraid to attack before a climb for example and I’ve been exploiting my positions in sprints much better, too.
PEZ: Did your stage win in the Ronde de l’Oise generate interest in you among the continental teams?
ZD: I’m managed by Andrew McQuaid and he’s working on my behalf.
I want to win bike races and when I spoke with Allan Peiper at Utah, he said that I was contributing well to the team effort and didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t step up a level.
PEZ: How does the UK race scene compare to Europe?
ZD: UK races are like any other races, there are good guys and some guys you don’t rate – but you have to be desperate to win them.
However, 8th in a UK Premier Calendar race doesn’t mean you can get that placing in Europe.
PEZ: What’s next?
ZD: After France we have a couple of Premier Calendars and then it’s the Tour of Britain – I’m hoping to come out there with all guns blazing.
I’ve had good results there before and I think a stage win is viable.
It’s a good shop window but it won’t define my career, I’ve been getting consistent results, so whilst it’s important, it’s not a ‘be all and end all’ race for me.
PEZ: And you originally come from Castlemaine, as in . . .
ZD: Yeah, as in XXXX lager!
I was born there but we moved up to Bendigo when I was 12; my dad used to play Aussie rules football for Castlemaine, the team was fuelled with XXXX – in fact, I think it still is!