TalkingShop: Aussie Zak Dempster

Racing for Endura Racing in 2012 will be one of Australia’s top road sprinters Zak Dempster.

In 2012, the strongest British team outside of the WorldTour (Team Sky) is Endura Racing. After quite a successful year in 2011, the Scottish team are looking for much more success in Britain and Europe and to do this they have signed many top names including Zak Dempster. VeloUK caught up with him across the time zones thanks to the wonder of email. After a quietish  year in 2010, his debut season racing in Britain, Zak was on fire at the start of this year, winning seemingly at will.

Zak in yellow after winning the Tour DoonHame (Scotland) ahead of Raleigh’s Matt Cronshaw and Endura Racing’s Jack Bauer who rides for Garmin in 2012.

He then finished off the year riding for HTC High Road before signing for Scottish UCI Continental team, Endura Racing. In 2012, Zak and the team will racing in the familiar colours of the Equipe range of clothing (click here for more on that) with Zak being based in Girona with a lot of the other Endura Racing riders.

For those thinking that the fans in Britain won’t be seeing him and the others based in Girona racing here, fear not as Zak will be back racing in Britain as well as in Europe. In this interview we talk about everything from how he found the racing in Britain, his highlights of the year and his top tips for anyone visiting Britain!

VeloUK: After two years racing for a British team, what is different about racing here to what you thought it would be?
Zak: The level is definitely higher than I thought before coming here. I think if you can be consistent and competitive in the Premier Calendar, then you have a pretty good shot at winning in Europe. It’s on par with the Australian National Series I believe which is why I’m so surprised to see guys go oversea’s to race when they haven’t yet been consistently successful at the top level in the UK or Australia. I think it’s an important step to conquer the level you’re at, then move onto the next.

VeloUK: Do you see the signing for Endura as a step up from racing in Britain and more towards to the pro peloton in Europe?
Zak: Rapha-Condor-Sharp had a good program but I think Endura was the right move toward racing more in Europe. The depth of the 2012 Endura squad is there and I think you’ll see a number of riders be successful at different points of the year. My understanding is that some of the 2.2 events the team raced and won this year will be replaced with 2.1 events which should provide a great platform for awareness of the team and riders when we’re successful.

VeloUK: Do you see yourself racing less in Britain with Endura Racing?
Zak: I haven’t got my exact program yet, however I’ll back in the UK for selected events. It’s important to me that I race predominantly in Europe, but what’s even more important to me is that I’m successful and assist the team to be successful where ever we may be racing. The UK racing is very important, and I won’t be there to muck around.

VeloUK: How did you enjoy your time with HTC and what’s the difference going from a small Continental team to a World Tour one for a race. What sort of things do they do differently and how was it different in the race?
Zak: There’s a few differences. There seems to always be more staff than riders which always helps make things easier. When Cav was on the team, there were also about 100 fans & press outside the bus waiting for him to get off. There’s also higher expectations of performance and very little room for error. If you didn’t do what was asked of you, (I did everything luckily!), it was pointed out and then you would be expected to produce it the next day. I guess it’s basically you’re expected to do your job and do it properly. I really liked that responsibility.

Zak winning the UCI event, the CiCLE Classic in Melton Mowbray.

VeloUK: We saw you winning races this year in what was no doubt a good year for you. Is there are a highlight or two from 2011?
Zak: I was happy with my Spring and the way I approached the whole season. There’s a couple of things I would change in my preparation for the second half of the season but I approached training and racing with a really good level of desperation and confidence. The stage win in Ronde L’Oise was really good, as was my second against the pro’s in Circuit de Lorraine, then probably the Rutland CiCLE Classic was also really satisfying.

VeloUK: We see more Aussies signing for British teams this year. What do put that down to … is it a nicer pathway to go to an English speaking team and get a mix of racing in Europe and Britain? Is the racing in Britain thought of more highly than it might have been once?
Zak: I think it’s a product of the UK teams getting a bit bigger and UK manager’s being aware of how easily an Australian will slot into a British team and probably enrich the atmosphere of that team. It is a good mix of racing in Europe and the UK, it is also a little easier for some guys to live in the UK than a foreign country like Italy or France. That doesn’t really worry me but it is quite hard for some guys.

VeloUK: Season over in Europe, what now during your summer in Australia? A break at home or do you go abroad for that too!
Zak: I had about three weeks off after Giro del Piemonte and I came home straight after Tom Southam’s retirement race. It’s really nice to come home. It seems to get shorter and shorter every year but that’s a good thing in terms of my career.

Victory in the Dengie Marshes race early season, a race that is down to bea Premier Calendar in 2012.

VeloUK: Preparing for the European season, what is a typical programme of training in Australia where the weather is very hot at this time of year. When do you start the hard yakka and how many hours a week do you typically do to get that base in for the season in 2012.
Zak: I started first on the mountain bike and some really basic gym and now I’m through my first two weeks of serious training which is based around about 18 hours on the bike per week and three solid gym sessions. That progresses to around 25-30 hours per week and two easier gym sessions by Christmas.

VeloUK: Do you coach yourself or do you have help in that area.
Zak: I’m coached by Gene Bates who is the head coach at the Tasmanian Institute of sport and the Australian Under 21 national coach. He raced professionally for LPR, stagiarred for Saeco and Credit Agricole and was a really successful rider. I raced one year in the AIS with him. He was one of the best riders I’ve raced with because of his knowledge and desperation in races. We work really well together and I’m looking forward to making it an even more successful year next year.

VeloUK:  Do you use any training tools like heart rate monitors or powercranks or is it a case of a chaingang battering one another like a race?
Zak: I use a heart rate monitor and power meter which I think are both really helpful tools. I try not to read too much into the numbers but I do use them. I’ve just enlisted the help of Dave Bailey ( to help me get more out of training through a bit of analysis which will help Gene and I know exactly when it’s time to back it off or when I need to work in a more specific way than we do now. It’ll also be good to see my progression through the season.

Zak with Simon Richardson.

VeloUK: Where are you based in Oz (Bendigo?) and are there plenty of riders to train with?
Zak: I live at home in Bendigo during the summer. There’s a really strong cycling community which I would compare  with Sheffield in the UK. A good mix of climbs, a few semi-professional riders and plenty of chain gangs. Lappers (Darren Lapthorne) has made his base here, along with Scott McGrory and a number of strong young riders that I’m looking forward to seeing progress.

VeloUK: What would you say is the difference between a training ride in Bristol and one in Bendigo?
Zak: Bristol was a great place to live and train but it lacked a good 20 minute climb and we have that in Bendigo so that’s a big difference. Also – everyone in Australia trains earlier. There are groups going out training between 6am and 8am every morning. When I was at school, I’d have 60km done by the time I got to school then I’d usually be at the track in the night time. I remember there were a couple of riders who didn’t have jobs and weren’t working when I was in school and they used to meet at 9am for training in the centre of Bendigo and that group quickly became known as the “9am – I don’t work” bunch. Quite funny really!

VeloUK: And while we’re at it, what is the difference between a national British race and one in Australia like the Cody Cup events … when I were a lad in Oz it was all handicaps… bet that’s changed! (Hopefully)!
Zak: There are still the grass root’s handicapped races that have been around for years and years. But the Premier Calendar and the Scody Cup are two very similar series. There’s more prize money in Australia than in the UK and the races are 5-8 days long with two stages every day, so that’s a big difference.

VeloUK:  Will you be looking to get some racing in early season at the Bay crits?
Zak: I’ll be doing the Bay Crits. I  didn’t do them last year and prepared really well for the nationals. I was 6th in the Criterium champs after being caught up in a crash and was setting up for a good ride in the road race but had a quadracep tear on the first lap. It’s never been explained fully but it took me a couple of weeks to get back on my bike.

VeloUK:  Where will you be based for next season?
Zak: I’ll be living in Girona. Cam Meyer helped me organise a place and quite a few of the Endura guys are there so it’ll be nice to have people around, live somewhere sunny and with a great selection of training roads.

VeloUK: Finally, If you’re asked by family and friends in Oz, where should they visit in Britain, what are your top five tips of places to go to!

– London – it’s definitely worth seeing all the places that are so famous, if for no other reason than to tick them from the list.
– Edinburgh – it’s a cool city and beautiful area that changes dramatically at night time.
– Bristol/Bath, it’s a great area. Both city’s have interesting aspects and plenty of things to see. Bristol’s got the “edgy” parts as Si Richardson would say so it’s a nice mix.
– South Wales, in particular the area around Tyntern Abbey.
– Rosington, Yorkshire. Like, I stayed with Briggsy (Graham Briggs) and Sam (Graham’s wife) at the start of the season and I really did like it there… The garden room is worth a look for lunch, or coffee, or cake, or a cheeky beer. (do I get free caramel slice now?)

All the best during the summer to Zak and we all (well, maybe not everyone!) look forward to seeing you with Endura Racing in 2012…

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