VeloVeritas soothsayer and mentor has been on to me for a while; ‘you should be speaking to that Zak Coleman laddie, he’s on the VolkerWessels team in The Netherlands, that’s a top team and he’s the only non-Dutch boy on it! They ride a lot of the UCI European Tour races, the likes of the Baloise Belgian Tour.’
It took a wee while but eventually we caught up with the 24 years-old originally from Great Yarmouth on the cusp of his second season with the highly rated Dutch Continental team.
Thank you for speaking to us, Zak – we have to ask or Jos Ryan gets on our case; are you a ‘Rayner Foundation Man?’
“Not now but I was for three or four years, the funding was a great help to me during those years.”
It looks like in 2017 you went to Belgium and never came back?
“I went over as a junior and was helped by Tim Harris, the ex-British pro champion who’s helped a lot of riders over the year – I won my first race there and that was that!”
Tell us about your 2018/2019 team, ‘VP Consulting – Zannata,’
“That was the local club to Tim Harris and I got my introduction to the Belgian kermis scene and ‘Inter Club’ racing with them.”
Then 2020/2021 you were with ‘Acrog Tormans.’
“Their focus was more on u23 racing, Remco Evenepoel was with them in 2018 and further back, Tom Boonen – they have close links with QuickStep.”
2022 and Volkerwessels – is it a good professional set up, is there a soigneur, mechanic?
“Oh yes, it’s a proper set up, the Dutch Federation has strict regulations about how a Continental team should do things.
“We have a full time soigneur and mechanic with additional staff brought in as required on, ‘day contracts.’
“Longer term the team has ambitions to move up to Pro Team.”
For 2023 the team is all Dutch – bar you and a Belgian rider… you did well to get the ride.
“In 2022 I was the only non-Dutch rider, VolkerWessels is a long established, major European construction services business with Dutch-based headquarters, it’s owned by the Wessels Family.
“There’s a British connection with that arm of the company, VolkerFitzpatrick, based in Birmingham – but there are 134 companies in the group some of whom are co-sponsors of the team.
“The Wessels family are into their cycling and come to the races.”
The team had 17 wins in ’22, good going in the competitive Belgian and Dutch arenas.
“That’s just in UCI races, if you include club competitions and criteriums it was around 50 wins.”
You enjoy a quality programme with them – Tour du Loir et Cher, Fleche du Sud, Tour of Belgium, Tour of South Bohemia and quality one day races too like Schaal Sels.
“It’s a really good programme albeit was a steep learning curve for me, stepping up from Dutch club level racing to quality races like the ones you mention.
“It’s physically a heavy workload, we’re a successful team and race like a Pro Team or WorldTour Team rather than a Continental team.
“In many Continental teams riders often seek their own opportunities rather than ride the team game but not with us; we all have a role to play so you have to try and seize your own opportunities within that structure, and that’s what I’m learning to do.”
And you’re retained for season ’23 – they must be happy with you?
“Yes, they seem really happy with me but I guess I did some good rides for the team.”
Which rides last season are you most pleased with?
“In the Trofee Ton Dolmans (a 199 kilometres Dutch ‘Top Competition’ race) we were first, second, third, eighth and I was 13th after we controlled the race; I lead into the final climb – that was a satisfying day.”
Where’s ‘home’ in Belgium?
“Tielt-Winge, east of Leuven in a house owned by Tim Harris.
“There are four of us riders there; our races are predominantly in France, Belgium and The Netherlands, so it’s an ideal location.”
How’s your grasp of the Vlaams lingo?
“I can understand a lot of it when I read it but it’s difficult to understand my Dutch team mates, their pronunciation s different to how the language is spoken in Belgium.”
I believe you’re coaching as well as racing?
“I’ve been coaching for five years now, it’s something I’ve always had an interest in, that and sports science.
“I achieved my coaching qualifications here in Belgium and it’s taken off well for me.”
And who coaches the coach?
“I’ve recently changed coaches and now have the same coach as Tim Merlier, Erwin Borgonjon.”
How’s the build-up to the new season going?
“I’ve been in Spain since November, building my aerobic base, the team camp will be here in February.
“I had a bit of illness at the start of the year and I’m building back up from that.
“My first race is the UCI 1.1 Grote prijs Jean-Pierre Monsere on 5th March; the last three winners were De Lie, Merlier and Jakobsen so it’s a high level race.”
What’s 2023 about for you?
“To make use of the opportunity I’ve been given, ride bigger races, contribute to the team’s success and achieve some success of my own.”
No doubt Viktor will keep us right on Zak’s progress, VeloVeritas wishes him well, along with all the British young men out there and, ‘just doing it.’