At 27, Zak Dempster is making the transition from neo-pro to an experienced head in the Bora-Argon 18 team. After knocking on the door for several years, Dempster finally turned pro when NetApp and Endura merged in 2013. He’s just had his biggest year yet with appearances at the Tour de France, Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Going into his third season he’s hoping to build on that. "I’d just like to make another step up. Last year, I felt that I could hang on a little longer with the favourites and then it comes to the point, around the six-hour mark, where things got pretty real and the top guys make another big step up," Dempster told Cyclingnews.
"There are no real miracles in cycling any more, everybody knows that you can’t just come in all guns blazing and say that I’m going to do this because at the end of the day words are just words and they don’t really mean anything… You can’t just say you’re going to make the jump and do it, it’s not as simple as it sounds."
Dempster is already well into his third season as a pro with the Australian National Championships and the Mallorca Challenge under his belt. Prior to racing in Mallorca he spent two weeks on the island with the team at a training camp, where they spent time fine tuning Sam Bennett’s lead-out train. This week’s Tour of Qatar will be a chance for them to put into practice what they set down in training. With new signing Shane Archbald, Dempster is keen to take it to the big names in Qatar.
"Start as you mean to go on. There’s no reason to shy away from going to the race with lofty ambitions," Dempster said. "You’re going to go head to head against the likes of QuickStep and you need to know how we can manage that positioning-wise because the habits you set now are the ones that you’re going to carry into your first races and then you carry into the really big races.
"The days are gone where you could go into the season and cruise around Spain with no helmet on and a cool haircut and wait for the classics to come along. It’s gung-ho from the word go."
There have been several changes in the team’s line up this winter and, with the departure of several of their GC contenders, Dempster believes that there will be a bigger responsibility put on the sprint to take results for the team. And with his nine seasons of experience in the peloton he sees himself as a crucial cog in that set-up.
"I think you’ll probably see Bora-Argon with a bit more of a sprint focus," he said. "I see myself as a pretty important person in the lead-out so for Sam that’s important, if he has me there. I’m one of the older guys now so I’ve got to take a bit more responsibility because I’ve got a bit more experience, so that should be a really cool role for me.
Following Qatar, the Bora rider will race in Oman before turning his focus to the Classics, his first real target of the year. Dempster moved to Belgium in 2009 and harbours a big passion for the cobbled races. “They’re just cool races,” he says. “I grew up watching them. They’re really hard and the positioning [part of it] is really good and a strong point of mine. It’s not always about being the strongest guy in the race but being the smartest and that’s a factor that I like and the passion that surrounds it.
"Flanders and Roubaix are my favourite Classics races. It’s always a dream to ride those races. I’ve had the opportunity to ride them before and if I could get the opportunity to do it again that would be great."
Last season was Dempster’s second attempt at the Belgian races and there was a marked improvement in his performances - finishing just outside the top 50 in both Flanders and Roubaix – and he believes he’s ready to make another step forward.
"I think I’m closer to doing really strong performances in those races but like I said it’s a step by step process. You can’t just say you’re going to make the jump and do it, it’s not as simple as it sounds."