Aged 30, Zak Dempster has had his fair share of experiences in the crazy world of European professional cycling.
He has had stints with former iterations of JLT–Condor, HTC–Highroad and Bora–Hansgrohe, among others, racing the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
But nothing, Dempster says, compares with his time at UCI Professional Continental Outfit Israel Cycling Academy.
“It is the most fun team I have been on by far,” a thoughtful and eloquent Dempster explains. “If you take a snapshot of my team, you see a melting pot of cultures.
“But somehow it just works,” he continues. “We have young guys, older guys, guys from different religions – a Californian Christian, Jewish guys from Israel, an Eritrean that sought asylum in Sweden. It is an awesome mix, and definitely makes for good dinnertime conversation.”
One of Israel Cycling Academy’s riders is even a Donald Trump supporter, and they had Turkish Muslim rider Ahmet Orken on the roster until recent political events led him to resign.
Dempster’s multi-cultural colleagues are presently in Australian for the summer of cycling, with the forthcoming Jayco Herald Sun Tour an early target for the team. The Victorian admits that the chance to race in his home state was enticing.
“It is a nice way to start the season,” Dempster says. “I have spent a lot of years plying my craft in Europe, and have never raced properly in Australia with my team. It will be cool to have plenty of local support. To be back here in front of my family and friends is super special for me.
Once Israel Cycling Academy returns to Europe, they have a Grand Tour start on the horizon – the team has been invited to contest the Giro d’Italia, given the iconic race’s starting point in Jerusalem.
“The Giro is a massive thing for the team,” Dempster admits. “I have done the Vuelta, done the Tour a couple of times, raced most of the Classics I want to do, so I feel like I have good experience and the Giro is the last one remaining.”
The Italian Grand Tour provides an excellent opportunity for Israel Cycling Academy to demonstrate their top-level credentials. After a transitional season in 2017, with 11 neo-pros on the roster, the team is looking for a big year ahead with a view to eventually gaining World Tour status.
“The main objective is to keep growing,” Dempster says. “Talk is cheap – every Pro Conti team comes out and says ‘we want to be World Tour by year X.’
“Sure, it is good to have those objectives, but I have been really impressed by the team owners and managers here because they have put their money where their mouth is,” he says. “Everyone is just going about it, putting the right processes in place, rather than talking about it.”
SBS will broadcast daily highlights of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour with the final stage shown live on SBS Viceland as well as live streamed right here on Cycling Central.
As Israel Cycling Academy grows, Dempster is taking on a leadership role within the team. Surrounded by 20-somethings, his 30 years and decade of cycling experience has made him an asset for other riders.
“Becoming a mentor within the team has happened really quickly,” he says. “I was a mid-range guy for a while, listening to people and not really being looked up to, but now – they’re just kids!
“I have been through what they are going to – going to your first Classics, getting fat at your first Classics, going crap at your first Classics, getting a little bit of success, then going back to the drawing board, training hard and eating well. I don’t really feel any pressure in guiding them because I know it – I have been through exactly what they are going through.”
Before the team returns to Israel for the Giro’s opening stages, Dempster is eyeing success at the Classics following a positive end to 2017. “I had a few good results last year,” he explains. “I finished seventh in the London–Surrey Classic, my first sub-10 at that World Tour level.
“This year I want to make another step up at the Classics,” Dempster continues. “We have a great build-up – beginning with the Australian summer, before heading back to Europe to train for a few weeks.
“Then hopefully I will hit the Classics like a tonne of bricks.”