Zak Dempster: Bendigo boy on the prowl!
Interview with a talented young Australian cyclist.
22 year old Zak Dempster is a young Australian cyclist hailing from Bendigo, Victoria who has had an unlucky year, but will be hoping the luck will change when he rides for European Continental Team, Rapha Condor next year.
Dempster previously rode for Australian team, Drapac Porsche for a year and then moved to the SA.com-AIS team for two years. He had the option to continue with the team but last year decided to take a different pathway more focused on road racing in the north of Europe with Bulgarian based Cycling Team Bourgas on a one year contract. He had previously focused a lot on the track, but wanted to explore the road a bit more and Bourgas was the perfect opportunity for him to do that.
Early in 2009 he had a great start to the year in the Belgian races and showed some talent, especially considering he knew nothing of the area having never raced there before. However things quickly changed when he had picked up an intestinal parasite that wouldn’t go away. It was an insane illness which saw the youngster seven weeks out of competition with the first four very uncomfortable. He went from 78kg at 191cm to 73kg and that was a big drop for someone not racing.
Then, not long after, he got an E-Mail that no cyclist ever wants to get. His team, Bourgas, folded. Dempster was back racing but the stress got to him. “I hadn’t been paid in three months and the staff of the team all knew there were issues and that really wore down on Franky, our DS, which in turn made things difficult for everyone”, he said. He went onto say “It wasn’t fair on the people they’d contracted to do a job – riders, Franky, masseurs, mechanics….the whole thing was ridiculous.”
Afterwards, he had contact with quite a few European teams but a mid season transfer is hard to do and Drapac Porsche gave him a lifeline for the rest of 2009. He mentioned that it was a really fun experience for him and he’ll continue to be mates with everyone on the team.
Heading into 2010 with Rapha Condor, Zak is hoping for a turnaround of fortune. In interviewing him we all get to know this talented young cyclist who plans on making waves next year in Europe.
Dempster in Action
Zak, How did you get into cycling?
I got into cycling through my father who was an Ironman Triathlete. He had a spare bike and a Bank race was on TV so I pretty much went for a ride on a whim after seeing that race.
Who have you ridden for in your young career?
Drapac Porsche, SA.com AIS, Cycling Team Bourgas.
Tim Decker is your coach and he has a strong reputation in Australia and has helped many people. How has he helped you develop as a rider?
Tim's been instrumental in my career. He is someone that has so much belief in me and I'd like to think he gets a lot from seeing me be successful. He’s also around for the really shit times and to remind me that I am capable of getting to where I want to go. It's really important to be surrounded by positive people and Tim is one of those.
When did you first start racing in Europe and how did you find it compared to Australian races?
My first European race was the Giro d'Abruzzo in 2007 with SA.com - AIS. It was hard. Really bloody hard. I got time cut on the 2nd last day - I was in the Groupetto and I wouldn't hang onto the car with the rest of the group. I was warned by the Australian staff that anyone caught hanging onto the car in the Australian Jersey would be on the next plane back home so I didn't dare hang on and I'm glad I didn't as it sets a poor standard if you're going to hang on in your first European race or any race in your whole career to be frank. I got back to the AIS base and was pretty gutted and full of blame for a pretty dodgy system that I had come across but I was reminded that the best way to beat that would be to avoid riding groupetto.
What are your other interests besides cycling? (Music, sport, AFL team?)
Music is an interest for any traveler I think. Bob Dylan seems to mellow out the remainder of my day after a race. I barrack for Melbourne in the AFL. Although the results from the 2007 Castronno Cup (AIS base in Italy) speak otherwise, I really think I was the most talented table tennis player to come out of that squad. I'm also studying Australian History, News and Politics with Open Universities.
Who were/are your heroes?
Simon Gerrans is someone I look up to, especially after my situation this year. He was in a similar scenario after leaving the AIS with a Norwegian team so I take a lot of confidence knowing where he has gone. As long as you have the desire and the want in order to persevere, be self critical and change things if you need to but generally believe in yourself enough to withstand all the shit that can go on in cycling, sport in general, anything is possible.
Dempster Claiming Victory
Who inspired you to ride?
My Dad. Going to watch him do the Hawaii Ironman will make you question how far you can push yourself and make you realise how cool it is to do something epic in your life, even if you can't walk up stairs properly for a few weeks after.
You have had some track background and some good victories. Tell us about them? How did it feel?
This year will be the first I'll exclusively focus on the road. The Austral was really special, I was only 16 and didn't realise the race's significance. To be completely honest I only cared because I knew that I'd get a ride in the Bendigo Madison after winning. Winning the Bendigo madison with Mitch Docker is the proudest moment of my career. It holds an exclusive place in my heart having watched it as a kid and I'll never forget that night. I've also done alot of World Cup racing and one World championships.
Are you going to fully focus on road or will you explore potential track cycling in the future?
I'm not done with track racing. I did a lot of Team Pursuiting but I couldn't commit completely to it this year so I didn't bother. I'm not sure what direction the UCI and IOC will take but I'm sure that at some point I'd like to come back to track racing. It's a matter of the right time because doing a half arsed job isn't worth it.
You won your first road race in 2005 claiming victory in stage four of the
Tour of the Southern Grampians. How did it feel to win your first race on the road?
That was my first senior win but I really wanted to eventually concentrate on the road so winning that as a junior was extremely satisfying.
To win a road race as compared to a team pursuit or a time trial is no doubt the coolest thing you can do depending on the calibre of the race.
What has been your sweetest win?
The Bendigo Madison. We came second last only two weeks earlier at the Australian Madison champs so to win Bendigo - which is in my mind the most important Australian Track race - it was the most satisfying moment I've had in cycling, along with having all my family and friends in the crowd.
Bendigo Madison 2006
What is your favourite domestic race in Australia?
Melbourne to Warnambool. I refused to do it until last year and then when I won. I basically said that one win from one was enough but it was a really fun experience for me this year, especially seeing as I never put a lot of pressure on winning it. Hopefully my Dad will be keen to compete in it for next year and I might ride it again also.
Tell me about the win? How did it feel?
Completely unexpected. I'd actually finished my off season and started training already and I only had two weeks under my belt training wise. I remember Johnnie Walker telling me; "You should come to the Warrny and maybe lead me out" - I was quick to point out that if I had ridden 298km, I wouldn't be leading anyone out so once I got to the 200km mark, in the lead group I was convinced that I would win and was desperate to do so. Dad won D grade that year also to so that was a really cool moment for us. We have a great relationship and I hope he'll do the Warrny next year.
What type of races do you prefer?
I like one day races with a few climbs and a lot of gutter action. I fancy myself as a bit of a sprinter and I'm not scared to jump through gaps so I enjoy that.
What do you consider your strengths as a rider?
Sprinting, Cross winds, Shorter climbs of 1km-3km. Time trialing as well. They all sort of compliment and allow for each other.
Next year, what races will you be aiming for?
My first goals will involve the Jayco Bay Criterium series and the national road race, then I'll head to Europe and commence racing at the end of February with a great period of racing including Tour of Normandie, Ardennes, Bretagne, Loit et Cher, and Paris Troyes just to name a few. Toward the end of the season my focus will be the Saschen Tour, Tour of Ireland, and Tour of Britain. There's so many more races, the main thing is to be competitive right from the beginning - setting specific races as goals and hitting them.
What are your goals for next year?
Basically I'd like to be competitive from the word go as I mentioned above. It's really important to me that I win races. I've got experience at the level of races that I'm setting as my goal so I see no reason why I shouldn't be aiming to win.
What are your long term goals?
Long term - I'd like to join the professional peloton and the spring classics are a big motivating factor for me. Paris Roubaix and Ronde Van Vlaanderen are the two coolest races in the world as far as I'm concerned and I'd love to be at the pointy end of those races - that'd be cool.
2007 Tour of Britain Stage 3: - Dempster on right.
Sprints Classification After Stage 3
1 156 Dempster,Z AIS 20
2 132 Rooijakkers,P SKS 11
3 161 Cavendish,M TMO 7
4 61 Van Heerden,C KON 7
Here are some of Zak’s Palmares.
2007: Team – SouthAustralia.com – AIS
4th Tour of Britain (2.1): Prologue
5th Tour of Britain (2.1): Stage 3
2nd Tour of Britain (2.1): Sprint Classification (beaten by Mark Cavendish)
1st U23 Australian Road Time Trial Championships (NE)
1st G.C. Tour of Gippsland (NE)
1st Tour of Gippsland (NE): Stage 5
1st Bendigo International Criterium (NE)
1st Pacific Hydro Victorian 100km Kermesse Championship (NE)
2nd Tour of Gippsland (NE): Stage 2
2nd Intermediate Sprint Competition GP Capardarco. (Italy) (1.2)
3rd Tour of Japan (2.2): Stage 1
7th Tour of Japan (2.2): Stage 3
2008: Team - SouthAustralia.com – AIS
1st Melbourne to Warnambool (1.2)
1st Tour of Japan (2.2): Stage 1
1st Scotty's Race (NE)
2nd Bay Criterium Series (NE): Stage 3 (beaten by Mark Renshaw)
2nd Denderwindeke (1.12)
4th GP Melle (1.2) Belgium Pro Kermesse
4th Tour of Japan (2.2): Stage 7
5th Tour de Langkawi (2.HC): Stage 1
7th Tour of Ireland (2.1): Stage 2
8th Tour of Britain (2.1): Stage 1
9th Tour of Britain (2.1): Stage 2
10th Tour of Ireland (2.1): Stage 1
8th Tour de Langkawi (2.HC): Stage 7
9th Circuito Montanes (2.2): Stage 6
12th Circuito Montanes (2.2): Stage 8
12th Gran Premio Marmo (1.2)
14th General Classification, Tour de Langkawi (2.HC)
15th GP Inda (2.2)
16th Due Giorni del Marchigagna (2.2)
2nd Ronde Van Wolder, Netherlands
2nd Tour of Hokkaido 2.2 Stage 2
3rd Tour of Hokkaido 2.2 Stage 3
3rd Tour of Tasmania Stage 5
4th Australian U23 Time Trial Champs
4th Tour of Hokkaido 2.2 Stage 4
5th Tour of Hokkaido 2.2 General Classification
6th Stage 1 Grande Premio Internacional CTT Portugal 2.1
7th Stage 2 Tour of Turkey 2.1
10th Australian Road Race Championship U23
15th General Classification Drie Daagse Van West Vlaanderen 2.1
34th Nokere-Koerse 1.1
I wish Zak all the best for season 2010 and beyond.