The curtain will be drawn on the distinguished career of New Zealand's most successful cyclist, Julian Dean, in Christchurch in two weeks.
Dean, 38 next month, has decided to retire from the sport after 17 years as a professional, the last 14 years as a Pro Tour cyclist riding for some of the sport's biggest teams.
His career embraces 20 Grand Tours (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana) including two stage wins, more than 12 top-10 finishes on the Tour de France and a reputation as the best lead out sprinter in the business.
Dean will take up a career off the bike with his Orica GreenEdge team, in a new role as an assistant sporting director and mentor.
His final race will be the Calder Stewart national road championships in Christchurch on January 13 - a title he has won two times.
Dean said that while he had always planned to retire after 2012, he had considered one further year because his final season was thwarted by injury, breaking his leg in the Volta Ciclista Catalunya in his first ride back from a broken shoulder.
"It is not the way I had envisaged finishing my career. I thought hard about another season. GreenEdge were great to offer me another chance to ride but it is the right time, and the team has an opportunity to begin a new career in team management.
"The sport is in a very good place. With all world-tour riders part of programmes such as the biological passport it has the most comprehensive anti-doping system in the world. That encourages me and is one of the reasons that I have decided to remain in the sport I love because I firmly believe the future is bright.
"I've had a great career in this sport. It's given me so much and given my wife Carole and our boys a tremendous opportunity to experience life in Europe."
Dean said he's been honoured to have been at the vanguard in the growing popularity in the sport in this country.
"When I first started you never saw the Tour de France even on television news here. Now you can watch every stage live," Dean said.
"I've been blessed to get a lot of support from the New Zealand public and the cycling fraternity. It's been a real honour."
Dean got his first break in the United States in 1997 and over the last 15 years has ridden for a number of Pro Tour teams in Europe, later specialising as a lead-out sprinter, labelled by Tour de France green jersey holder Thor Hushovd as the best in the world.
He enjoyed 20 Grand Tours, including an outstanding 2009 season when he was the only rider to complete all three. He competed in four Olympics and one Commonwealth Games, winning a medal on the track in the team pursuit in Victoria in 1994.
Dean's career highlights comprised seven Tours de France, including a stage win in 2011 and three podium stage finishes in 2010, a stage win in 2008 Giro, twice top-10 at the world championships and 15th in the Athens Olympic road race.
Dean is also known as a tough man, with a number of major injuries throughout his career including a broken leg in 2002 and 2012, major elbow reconstruction in 2005 before recovering to finish top ten in the world championships, as well as the freak incident in 2009 when he and Spain's Oscar Freire were shot by an air rifle during the Tour de France. Julian managed to complete the remaining 10 days despite having the slug nestled deeply within the massively swollen tip of his index finger.
It was these attributes that enticed the new Australian professional team Orica GreenEdge to sign the New Zealander, both as a rider and in the future as a key part of the management.
"Orica GreenEdge was fortunate to have the experience of Julian for his final competitive year in what has been an outstanding career," said general manager Shayne Bannan.
"Toughness is a word you think of when you describe Julian as it has been this attribute that has made him one of the most respected on the scene.
"In 2013 Julian will have a role in the Team as an assistant sport director-mentor. We are excited that Julian has accepted this role and believe that he will provide another level of professionalism to the way that we can service riders in the Orica GreenEdge Team."
BikeNZ chief executive Kieran Turner said Dean had led the way for New Zealand cyclists.
"Julian has been a trailblazer for New Zealand road riders on the world scene and for many years was our only Pro Tour rider in the likes of the Tour de France.
"He has paved the way for others to follow and that we had a record seven Kiwi riders on the World Pro Tour this year was in part down to the high regard in which Julian is held both on and off the bike around the world.
"Julian's career highlights that there are many pathways for young people to get into the sport and succeed on the world stage. Julian showed what is possible, starting in BMX, then going to track before going on to ride in 20 Grand Tours and four Olympics.
"Throughout his career he has been the absolute model of the complete professional in every respect and we look forward to having someone like Julian working on one of the best teams in the world."
Dean competes in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Melbourne next week as a build up to the national championships in Christchurch on January 13, before returning to Spain to begin his new life off the bike.
- © Fairfax NZ News