Dempster abandons Tour de France and reveals just how hard the mountains are

Re-instated into the race despite finishing 28 seconds after the time cut, Bora-Argon 18 rider Zak Dempster fought fans, heat and saddle sores to continue the Tour de France

Zak Dempster (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

It’s not uncommon to talk of suffering in the Tour de France but suffice to say that Zak Dempster suffered more than most on stage 11 of the race over the Pyrenees.

The Bora-Argon 18 rider battled fatigue and severe saddle sores over the 188km stage, which climbed up and over the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet. He finished 45-47 down on the stage winner Rafal Majka and was reported to have been outside the time cut by 28 seconds on the line in Cauterets.

However the 27 year-old was reinstated into the race due to the vast crowds he had to ride through while languishing on his own at the very back of the race as temperatures nudged 35 degrees in the searing Pyrenean sun.

Dempster later abandoned the race on stage 12 after being dropped by the fast pace of the peloton.

“You fight all that time, not only yesterday [stage 11] but your whole career, and things happen and you’ve got to rise to it and keep fighting,” he said at the start in Lannemezan.

The Australian, who spent time racing in the UK with Rapha-Condor and Endura Racing, cried on television when he finished the stage. Having written on Twitter that his tears would spell the end of his chances of ever going on a date again, on Thursday he received an apology from the Dutch TV crew who filmed his emotional outpouring.

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“People say everyone likes a sensitive guy, I don’t know about that,” he said. “It was my fault for crying in public I guess!”

Dempster resisted the temptation to throw in the towel near the bottom of the Col du Tourmalet on stage 11 when several riders around him climbed off the bike and urged him to do the same. After he fought through the crowds and down the other side, he battled up the final category three ascent to the finish with the broom wagon and a Etixx-Quickstep team car for company.

“I had the broom wagon behind me, and they were really nice, they were driving up next to me and gave me some pretty scary updates on how long I had to go,” he said. “One of the Quickstep directors said I had five minutes at two kilometres to go and I was working it out in my head, and then I just put it all away. I was going as hard as I could that’s for sure.

“I honestly had nothing more. I spent so much time out of the seat and was just sprinting the last part to do everything I could to reach the finish line in time. I wasn’t in time.”

Fans have come out in their thousands to cheer on the Tour in the Pyrenees, and Chris Froome had to battle through a thick corridor of Basques on the final climb of stage 10 at La Pierre St Martin. However Dempster doesn’t begrudge the supporters that hindered his progress through the race.

“That’s the nature of it, I mean I have a health issue but it’s my fault for being so far behind,” he said. “It’s not Wimbledon, you’re not playing on Centre Court where you can just do your thing. It’s the Tour de France and that’s just part of it. I had some obstacles but I’m not angry or anything.”

Indeed in a sporting event where it is tempting to fetishise the endurance and suffering of its participants, Dempster was keeping his exploits on two wheels in perspective. It might have even helped him get through it.

“There’s much more significant suffering that goes on in the world than sport, sport is nothing in comparison to anything,” he said. “Three hours of my life on my limit is nothing.”

2015 Tour de France stage 11 highlights

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Richard Abraham is an award-winning writer, based in New Zealand. He has reported from major sporting events including the Tour de France and Olympic Games, and is also a part-time travel guide who has delivered luxury cycle tours and events across Europe. In 2019 he was awarded Writer of the Year at the PPA Awards.