A one-man breakaway in 40-degree plus temperatures on stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under was a suicide mission. A two-man breakaway was only slightly less mad. At least that was part of the reasoning for Zak Dempster and Alex Porter to jump clear of the peloton and continue the 100 per cent UniSA-Australia representation in the breaks at this year's race.
"It was the plan for both of us to go for it but, as it was super hot I think everyone was not as keen. Alex jumped. It was pretty stupid with just one guy. It was pretty stupid with just two guys, actually, but it is less stupid so I jumped out there with him," Dempster told Cyclingnews after collecting his most aggressive rider award as a prize for his efforts.
Riding his second career Tour Down Under, Dempster was the experienced rider of the duo while Porter, a team pursuit world champion, is riding his first.
"I was trying to guide him through as it is his first big race and I have done a few now," he said of his younger teammate, from whom he rode away with 45km left to race.
While Porter was unfamiliar with the roads in race mode, for Dempster and the riders who’ve spent time in Adelaide with the national track squad, it was familiar territory.
"When you do a track camp at 19 with Ian McKenzie, you are doing 1,000 kilometres a week, and God knows how many five-kilometre efforts, and riding back and forth to Gepps Cross. That is not too bad doing a three-hour flat-out ride around there," Dempster said of the stage.
Dempster, who ordinarily rides for Israel Cycling Academy, wasn't originally planning on the Tour Down Under, with February's Herald Sun Tour his stage race aim for the Australian summer. However, a bungle over the updated UCI regulations regarding its anti-doping pool opened the door for him and his trade teammate Nathan Earle to step into the UniSA-Australia team.
"I wasn't planning to do the TDU but obviously everyone knows the story about what is going on with the whereabouts and the WorldTour rules getting a lot tighter," he said.
"It was a last-minute thing for me to come here. I have good experience and I can guide the young guys. I obviously feel for the young guys who had really put this or nationals as a target. I reached out to few of those guys that I felt in the past would have deserved a spot here and now with the regulations being so strict, don't get to do it, which is a shame for them. I have been there before. If you are a cyclist, you can be on one side of selections, which is the way it is. I am just trying to guide the guys and show them how to ride at a high level here."
Both on and off the bike, Demspter's UniSA-Australia teammates weren't the only riders he was thinking about. Thoughts of former teammate and good friend Jason Lowndes have been ever-present since the tragic death of the 23-year-old in a training ride accident before Christmas.
"Everyday I think about Jase. I would really love to do something special for him in a race but I know that I can hear him saying, 'don't worry about it mate. It's fine, just go to the pub with my mates and have a few beers,'" Dempster said.
"I don't think he's that stressed if we go well. We had a lot against us today so success would have been a fairytale. What we can all take from Jason, and knowing him and being lucky enough to be his friend, was the way he lived his life.”
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