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Zak Dempster Vuelta a España blog

Zak Dempster at Tirreno Adriatico earlier in the year

Finishing the Vuelta ten meters at a time

Zak Dempster
September 18, 2013, 0:37 BST,
September 18, 2013, 2:23 BST

A successful season with NetApp-Endura draws to a close

The Vuelta for 2013 has been run and won, and I'm sitting at home having completed my first 3 week tour with a great sense of accomplishment, and to be honest, a slight hangover.

Like I mentioned in my previous blog regarding the Pyrenees, the final week continued to be a real fight. When groups of 30 riders are going away, they aren't just skipping away, they're being forced away on strength. The racing in the second half of the race was of course desperate in nature, and the parcours so brutal that sometimes it really felt like there wasn't much of a rhythm to the race other than 'go really fast once the flag drops, until you cross the line on the road 180km later.'

In a way I found that pretty cool, you get a sense that every team is there to get the success they want, and no one was really scared to lay everything on the line if the breakaway didn't suit their team, especially after having survived an epic 2 days in Andorra and France, it's almost as if there wasn't so much to be scared of anymore.

As a team we continued to ride in a way during the last week that we had during the previous two. Leo [Leopold Konig] pulled off 9th overall in his first ever GT which is more than impressive, and everyone else infiltrated breaks and assisted Leo.  We spent a lot of time riding next to the bunch leading into climbs to make sure we were placed in the first 20 to start the climb ahead of the shit fight occurring behind.

One memory that stands out for me was from the Angliru, the gruppetto was exploding and it was extremely difficult to just reach the top. I was concentrating just on the 10 meters in front of me and out of the fog, I passed under the 2km to go banner, I looked down at my SRM -at which I'd been trying to maintain around 8-10kph- and it read 7kph. In my head I thought; "c'mon man, it's only 2km..." then I made the calculation that at 7kph, it would take me another 20 minutes to reach the finish, luckily the last km was flat though so I got there faster but it was heartbreaking at the time, I thought I might be on that final climb forever.

I find it hard to put the whole experience into a few paragraphs. Or to summarise what I'll take from it; but for the moment, I think it's given me confidence - I'm looking forward to taking the new limits I've found to another level in the future. Because at the end of the day, it's not like I hated it, I liked it everyday; so why should we should be scared of having to suffer or test yourself?

I like the fact that everyday was a complete test of your mental and physical strength and in the end a feeling of accomplishment day after day.

The Vuelta was my final race for 2013, I'm looking forward to heading home to my family now, but my eyes are already on next season in all honesty; I'm looking forward to taking all the experience from this season into next year and making a step-up and maybe even finding another limit.

Zak Dempster at Tirreno Adriatico earlier in the year

The final week of the Vuelta for NetApp-Endura

Zak Dempster
September 11, 2013, 0:51 BST,
September 11, 2013, 1:51 BST

Getting inside the 'constant mind game' of survival

We're into the final week of the Vuelta and the peloton has been drastically reduced in size on account of the cold, the mountains and the speed of the race.

I'm not going to lie, I found the Pyrenees to be one of the biggest challenges I've faced as a rider. When I was dropped it was with good size groups but you can see that the large majority of guys are right on their limit for a long time; fighting, hoping to come back, or hoping that their tenth attempt at getting away will work. When I was suffering I found myself repeating phrases in my head, most of them went along the lines of, 'don't drop the wheel', 'stay here', 'on the limit'. I've heard those three phases a lot!

I hope that I'm not over dramatizing this but I found the mountain stages to be pretty bloody emotional. You'll be hanging on at your limit for an hour, followed by an influx of unimaginable happiness to make it back, then you're hit by the realisation there's still 180km and 3 cat 1's to go. It's a constant mind game, I try to not get over excited and just focus on one day at a time, or even one mountain, and when it gets ridiculously hard I even try to find the humour in each situation; even though it's not really that funny at the time, (and will take another twelve months before it is.)

Leo's [Leopold Konig] continued his great form and currently sits in 8th overall and to be honest, he doesn't seem like a rider about to crack. You can normally see signs at breakfast or during neutral zones of riders who are uncomfortable, but at the moment he seems confident and strong heading into three really important days from Thursday - Saturday.

Bartosz [Bartosz Huzarski] bombed the last 3km of stage 16 into a 3rd place, if you watch the replay, he's nowhere to be seen and then all of a sudden he's tagging onto Uran and Barguil's wheel for his second top three in a grand tour stage, after getting second on a Giro stage last year. He's been really strong all race and I don't think we've seen the last of him in the mountain finishes.

Speaking of Barguil, it's pretty amazing to think that leading into the last rest day, he was struggling to hang onto gruppetto after a severe crash at the start of one of the toughest stages and now he has come back to win two stages. He could barely walk when we boarded the plane in Granada a week ago so his ability to fight is there for everyone to see.

Personally I've been assisting Leo as best I can, then surviving the mountain stages and looking forward to hopefully having another go tomorrow in the sprint. For the moment I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, I'm just concentrating day by day on the stage, without looking too far into the race book. But I know this race won't go on forever so I'll take whatever chances I can get!

Enjoy the battles of the last week.

Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) wins stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana, the Czech's and his team's first Grand Tour stage victory

NetApp-Endura celebrate a stage win

Zak Dempster
September 03, 2013, 17:00 BST,
September 03, 2013, 18:00 BST

Dempster gives a rest day recap on all the action in Spain

We've arrived at the first rest day, which took a little longer than usual, as the rest days are situated on Tuesdays in the Vuelta a España this year. They are normally Mondays in most Grand Tours, or so I'm told.

It's safe to say that as a team at this stage we can be satisfied with our results and the way we've ridden, with Leo [Leopold König] taking a victory against the best, and all of us contributing toward that.

As you all probably watched the stage, I won't re-hash what happened too much. After Bartosz [Huzarski] was forced out of the break of 13 riders (due to his proximity on GC), Schorni [Daniel Schorn] and Jan [Barta] set about chasing the break, whittling the gap down for the whole stage with no help from any other team. Then, as we all know, Leo finished the job off. I did get more than a few "what the fuck are you guys doing?" comments when I came back through the bunch with bidons, because the pressure we were putting on had the race in single file in the gutter, so the fact that Leo finished off the job made it all pretty satisfying in the end.

To be honest, I've been surprised by the lack of animosity in the peloton, in most races it seems like a radio station of 'godverdomme!' And 'catso fai!' But it seems to me like here everyone understands what is going on and they just let each other get on with the job of all trying to be in exactly the same place at exactly the same time.

Chris Horner is cool, if he's not where he wants to be, he just brakes, and then rides up the outside of the bunch out of the seat at 60kph to where he wants to be without a word said to some guy that's probably going to get dropped about 1 hour before him.

In terms of fatigue I definitely felt the rest day was welcome, it's been a long way to get here, but I haven't really felt out of control yet.

The sprint stages were as hectic as I expected, with no real team having a complete lead-out. I helped Schorni during the first two and then I got to have a go during the seventh stage. The sprint was like a washing machine! One second you were sitting where you wanted to be, the next second you were completely out of place. I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time but as you can see from the top riders, they have the strength to get out of situations like that, so I need to work on it.

Not much has been said about Wes Sulzberger's crash and how incredibly tough it was for him to get up that climb during stage four (1.8km 13%, sections of 30%) with a broken collarbone, (not a crack mind you, it was in two pieces) and a fractured elbow. I'm still in disbelief of how much that must've hurt to reach the top.

I trained with Wes whilst I was in Andorra most days and it's bloody hard to see something like that happen when you see and understand all the suffering that goes into preparing for something like this. But I know he's probably on the ergo as we speak, with the same determination that got him up that climb, getting ready for his next race.

I'm off to get a couple hours on the bike soon, and then I'll spend the rest day doing the recommended activity; resting!

Zak Dempster (NetApp - Endura) during the 2013 Tirreno - Adriatico

Ready to tackle Vuelta a España

Zak Dempster
August 23, 2013, 1:05 BST,
August 23, 2013, 10:03 BST

Persistence pays for NetApp - Endura rider

As I write, I'm sitting here in Galicia, preparing (but mostly waiting) to start my first Vuelta y Espana this Saturday, for Team Netapp - Endura.

The process that led to me being here for the start of my first grand tour started a long time ago of course, but in the short term I was told by my team after the Tour of California finished in May that I should start to prepare for the Vuelta.

My first reaction was excitement, but quickly came back down to earth and went about preparing in the best way I possibly could in order to give myself the best possible chance, not only of making the selection, but of being in a condition to be able to make a significant contribution to my team's success during the race.

To be honest I've taken a roundabout route to get to this point, but that has made me all the more motivated to prepare for this opportunity. Over the years I've watched every rider from the AIS group of 2008 that I was a part of (Travis & Cam Meyer, Johnnie Walker, Wes Sulzberger and Simon Clarke) be selected and complete in their first grand tours.

I watched closely as they fought to make breaks, gain results and at times survive brutal stages and illness. Watching them perform at this level at once left me in awe of how tough a grant tour can be, but seeing them achieve great things in these races also provided me with great examples to strive toward.

In the build up to the race I spent a month at altitude, training my arse off to make sure I arrived at the start of the race in the best possible condition physically. Now though, the days before the race involve getting everything 100% with equipment via the mechanics, doing some team time trial training and resting a lot. It's nice to recover after the training you complete leading into a race like this, but I already get the feeling I honestly can wait to roll down the start ramp and be thrown into the chaos that will no doubt ensue.

Our team for the race is made up of mostly opportunists, we'll be looking to be involved where we can and prove that our Wild Card invitation was merited. On a personal level I'm hoping to get a look at the few sprint stages here, especially considering the peloton is largely made up of mountain goats. We re-coned stage 2 today, think it'll be a biggish group (10-20) come to the top.

Of our team, six guys have completed grand tours in the past, and three of us are grand tour rookies. While the other six may be familiar with the level of suffering involved - I am sure that it will be the three of us rookies, (Mendes, De la Cruz, and myself) who are about to probably find out a lot about ourselves we didn't already know, in the next three weeks.


Zak Dempster Vuelta a España blog

After stints with the Australian Institute of Sport as a full scholarship holder, and time spent with HTC-Highroad as a stagiare, Dempster now rides for Team NetApp-Endura and will be going into the Vuelta ready for his first Grand Tour.

The path to the Vuelta has been a long one for the rider who has never given up hope of reaching the top. Having raced with Drapac Cycling,, Rapha Condor Sharp, Endura, various Australian National Teams and now NetApp-Endura, Dempster has worldy experience and brings a unique insight into the professional cycling world.

The 25-year-old from Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, will be bringing you the inside line on the hectic bunch sprints and the gruelling mountain top finishes over the next three weeks.