CENTRAL Victorian cycling star Zak Dempster is in the Tour de France field.
The Bendigo and District Cycling Club star is the first cyclist from the region to contest the world's biggest road cycling classic.
The 26-year-old was named in NetApp-Endura's team of nine to contest the great race from July 5 to 27.
Selection for the Tour caps thousands of kilometres racing and training Dempster has done in many parts of the world.
Now based in Germany, Dempster said this season had been by far his best across Europe.
"I've felt I made a big step in comparison to last year and have been really competitive," Dempster told the Bendigo Advertiser.
"So now it's about continuing that progression," he said of racing more than 3600km.
"I think I should be fighting for some great results.
All nine riders in the NetApp-Endura line-up will be making their Tour de France debut.
It's been a roller-coaster of rides and emotions since Dempster first raced on the road.
Career highs include a Bendigo International Madison victory, and Melbourne to Warrnambool win.
"Cycling is a brutal sport, so I've definitely had some tough times," Dempster said.
"I've been in teams that have folded mid-season, ridden for less than minimum wage and also had some disappointing performances myself.
"I always try to go back to basics, assure myself I've got the capability and the desire to be successful and enjoy cycling for the reasons I like it.
"There's not much point doing it if I'd rather be back home doing something else and maybe one day I will; but for the time being, I really like the whole process and everything you have to go through in order to get to where I am and have the chance to do some really cool things in a sport I love."
Dempster said many people had played a part in his journey to now be racing in the Tour de France.
Family and coach Tim Decker are two of the biggest influences.
“Tim Decker showed me what’s possible if you work hard and believe.
“The cycling community in Bendigo and Castlemaine is really strong, so there’s always someone there with good advice.''
The cycling ace said his father, Darren played a crucial role in his cycling pursuits.
“Dad drove me all over Australia. We often didn’t arrive home until after midnight on a Sunday.
“Dad would be up for work a few hours later and never once did I hear about how hard it was,” Zak said of Darren’s support.
“Even if I didn’t get to this level or reach this goal, all he wanted was for me to be happy.
“I was happy racing and every now and then; winning.
“The Sunday night road trips home with Dad are the favourite part of my whole career.
“I doubt the Tour de France will change that.”
Bendigo jeweller and 2000 Sydney Paralympics cyclist Noel Sens has watched Dempster’s career evolve.
“For Zak to be racing in the Tour de France is an incredible effort,” Sens said.
“I’ve always been amazed by his commitment to training.
“He was a teenager then, but Zak was often in a training group on Mount Alexander and would always do more when others were having a coffee.
“There have been ups and downs along the way, so to see Zak doing so well is fantastic for him and inspirational for a lot of other cyclists.”