Julian Dean bows out third in elite company
It wasn't a title, but Julian Dean rode into retirement with a typically gutsy third place in cycling's national road race champs in Christchurch.
The 37-year-old, who this week begins his new job as assistant sporting director and mentor with Australian team Orica GreenEDGE, had to use every drop of his experience and talent to stay in the 183.7km race on a course he's the first to admit doesn't suit him.
The younger riders tried to lose him on each of the 10, 4km climbs up Dyers Pass Road, and each time he dragged them back on the flat before receiving the largest cheer of the day for filling the last place on the podium.
A beaming Dean was rapt with his performance, but more pleased with the state he is leaving New Zealand cycling in.
"We've got a good crop - you saw today - of young guys coming through.
"We've got a good group of professionals that are in world tour teams and I want to see those guys succeed," Dean said.
"I want them to work hard and I want them to have long careers like I have because I think they're as talented as anyone."
Dean said his door was always open to Kiwi riders wanting help or advice and he would keep an eye out for the top New Zealanders in his new role. Earlier, an emotional Dean addressed and thanked the crowd and his competitors for their support before he and his children Tanner, 7, and Val, 4, rode off in the ceremonial start.
With the pace on in an attack-filled race, Dean was always going to be up against it.
Another member of New Zealand cycling royalty, Greg Henderson was forced to pull out as did many more competitors including five-time winner Gordon McCauley.
But Dean just hung in there, showing the class of a rider who has competed in a whopping 20 Grand Tours.
When he finished, shattered though he may have been, you couldn't get the smile off his face.
"I'm proud to be honest," he said.
"It wasn't easy for me to choose to finish at this race, the national champs isn't an easy race," Dean said. The 2007 and 2008 winner then said he might not have been the strongest rider in the field of 80 but "I probably fought the hardest".
And that sums up Dean's career. A hard-working, professional in every sense of the world.
With the toughest national road race ever put together, on a course that didn't suit him, he left it all out there.
A great end to a great career.