Zak Dempster knew what he wanted, but at the same time, he knew what he didn't want.
With the news earlier this month that Germany's Pro Continental Team NetApp squad and his British-based Continental Endura Racing would merge for 2013, also came the news that Dempster would finally get the piece of paper he'd craved.
Twelve months ago he was on the verge of a pro deal, off the back of a season that was highlighted by seven wins and a stagiaire role for the soon-to-be-defunct HTC-Highroad at the Tour of Utah, but it never materialised. Instead, he signed for Endura Racing with an inkling that the team was set for bigger and better things.
"I didn't want to go through my whole career riding in conti teams so to get this represents a chance," the 24-year-old Australian told Cyclingnews of the Team NetApp-Endura deal. "There's plenty of guys that get pro conti contracts who don't make the most of it and I don't want to be one of those.
"One thing that I just tried to think about was that the guys that go pro late are the ones that stick out. It's so easy after under 23s to just say ‘oh, I'll just go back to uni.' It's a valid decision at the same time, but I feel like I'm capable of it [the move to the pro continental ranks].
"You chase and chase and chase. There're guys like Gerro [Simon Gerrans] who don't turn pro out of under 23s who are really good role models. He's one of the best riders in the world now and there're plenty of other guys who's just had to fight and fight and fight and after a few years out of under 23s they get the chance and make the most of it. Hopefully I can follow in those footsteps and make the most of it."
Heading into 2012, Dempster was keen on capitalising on a good situation with the ambitious team. He started training in the second week of November, and would go on to complete 70 race days for a grand tally of around 30,000 kilometres. The closest he came to a 'break' was two days off the bike in March.
"I just went for it," Dempster explained. "I got called into the Tour Series and while those were on there was a couple of tours that I'd set as goals so I didn't want to have a break and then lose everything that I'd worked for.
"You only get one chance."
He may not have notched up the same amount of wins this season but for Dempster, 2012 was about enhancing the quality of his racing, especially when it came to 2.1 category events. The Bendigo rider believes that his gains came down to age and experience, while his stint with HTC-Highroad had definitely made a difference. He was climbing better and his ability to endure the tougher stages had improved.
"When you're working for a top-class guy [Tejay Van Garderen - ed.] you have to be a pretty resilient athlete to be able to ride into the bottom of a climb and still get over the climb," Dempster reflected. "It showed me what I had to do."
What Dempster describes as "two holes" in his elbow has lead to his three-week break starting a little earlier than planned - he was down to race Binche-Tournai-Binche / Mémorial Frank Vandenbroucke and Paris-Bourges - but he already has one eye on the season ahead discussing loose plans with his coach Gene Bates and Team NetApp-Endura directeur sportifs.
"I don't want to be one of the guys who rolls in with his first pro deal saying 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that,' because at the end of the day talk's cheap," he warns.
For now, he's content in knowing he'll have a role to play in the Spring Classics.
"I'm really, really, happy to have a signed piece of paper but it's time to work, not necessarily harder but a little bit smarter."
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