– Reported by Guy Wilson-Roberts –
“One of the proudest moments in my cycling career,” was how Dean described wearing the traditional black jersey and silver fern motif of the New Zealand national champion during the 2007 season with Crйdit Agricole.
Now with Team Slipstream for 2008, Dean successfully defended the title back in New Zealand earlier this month.
Julian Dean will be sporting Kiwi Black again in 2008, this time argyle-style.
“It’s always nice, especially going to a new team, to add something like this to start the season with,” he told PEZ.
When PEZ spoke to Dean in August last year, he was adamant that he would defend his title and jokingly suggested that it could be a good way to add a new twist to Slipstream’s provocative argyle attire.
“I’ll just have to be like David Millar and take the national colours to the team as well,” he said.
His plans could have been derailed, however, when he was forced to pull out of the Eneco Tour with a persistent knee problem. Like many pro cyclists, Dean has had his fair share of injuries – but perhaps more than average given his choice of sprinting profession.
In 2005 he crashed out of the Giro with a badly broken arm that required extensive reconstruction, causing him to miss that year’s Tour de France, although he bounced back for a top-ten finish later in the year at the World Championships.
In 2006, a nastily broken hand in the Tour of Poland ended his season early, in a prelude to 2007’s late-season troubles, before the World Championships and required lengthy recovery.
With tests this time around revealing a torn ACL in his knee, Dean and his physio initially thought that if he was still riding okay that surgery would be best avoided. This proved not to be the case and an operation was done to repair the ligament, again causing him to miss the World Championships, but well ahead of any racing for this year.
Given that knee operations are usually a serious business, and even though the operation and rehabilitation appeared successful, PEZ wondered if Dean had any doubts about his form going into the national champs race.
“I sort of knew I was going pretty well,” he said. “These days with SRM data you can make comparisons so I knew I was going okay, but also that it would be more hotly contested than last year – the interest in the national championships has grown quite a lot.”
While Dean suggested that the course for this year’s nationals race was not as tough as last year, the rolling 7-lap, 182 kilometre parcours looked like it would offer plenty of challenges. As well, and a far cry from the wintry northern hemisphere, the temperatures in the Hawkes Bay of New Zealand, a prominent horticultural and wine-growing region, were more like southern Europe in July.
A six-strong breakaway group established an early lead, but never gained more than 3 minutes over the field. Dean had already said that he might have to ride a little smarter in this race and so was attentive in the peloton in keeping the chase going.
“Sometimes it was just a just a matter of keeping things rolling and getting a few guys together,” Dean explained. “Most of the guys were pretty well spirited and rode a positive race and contributed in their own way.”
The break was hauled back with one lap to go and the field started to stretch out as the pace increased. Finally, Dean got away with two other riders – Scott Lyttle and Athens Olympic rider Heath Blackgrove. At this point, Dean told PEZ that he was feeling confident about the situation.
“We got away on the climb, ten kilometres out, and got a gap pretty quickly,” he said. “And I was certainly the strongest out of the three.”
But they still had to hold off the chasing field, which included the recent winner of the Tour de Vineyards in Nelson and former junior world champion Jeremy Yates.
“I tried to encourage them as much as I could to keep working to stay away and take the medals,” Dean said.
On the slightly uphill finishing straight, Dean’s Europe-honed legs were too strong for Blackgrove (who was second last year as well) and Lyttle and won by a handy fifty metres in the sprint.
“There was a short 400 metre climb in the last kilometre which I was able to attack on and get away by myself,” Dean recounted.
And it was not long after Dean had crossed the line to take the title that the call came through from his new team boss, Jonathan Vaughters.
“Yeah, it came within a few minutes of the finish,” he confirmed. “And he was pretty happy – plus it’s good for them so see that you’re motivated and ready to do well for the season.”
Dean will now join David Millar and Magnus Backstedt as wearing the national champions colours and Vaughters must surely be wondering if he will be able to showcase any of his team in the standard kit. Still, when PEZ spoke with him last year he was enthusiastic about incorporating the traditional New Zealand sports styles into Dean’s attire.
“All Black argyle would be cool,” he said, in reference to the inspiration for the colour scheme.
According to Dean, team supplier Pearl Izumi were already working on a new design and Dean told PEZ that he expected to be wearing the new colours shortly after he arrived in Europe.
So this race was Dean’s first and last outing for the standard Slipstream strip but the first of many for his new bike, with the results obviously speaking for themselves.
“I had the new Felt bike, which I’d been riding since the new year, which was really good,” Dean confirmed. “Especially good were the Zipp 808s, which were perfect for the type of course – everything all worked a treat.”
Now back to setting up for the season in Europe, a long haul from New Zealand, Dean’s schedule will include Slipstream’s Europe training camp, run in parallel to another camp in the US, before heading to the Tour of Qatar then on to the Tour of California and the Tour of Valencia.
It will be a long season and given the training necessary to race hard for the national title so early in the year, PEZ asked Dean if he had been able to have enough time off the bike to put 2007 behind him.
“After the operation I was forced into time off the bike,” he said. “But rehabilitation is still hard work, so it doesn’t feel like time off – it’s more a mental thing than anything. But I put good work in over November and December, and it’s certainly paid off.”
There was always a risk for Dean in switching from Pro Tour status with Crйdit Agricole to Pro Continental with Slipstream. With his race schedule already filling up, PEZ asked how things were working out with the new team.
“It’s a little bit difficult to know until we get into the season,” Dean said. “The atmosphere at the training camp was good, everyone was really motivated and excited, and with good things going on at the team, which is something I’m happy to be part of.”
While there were some differences in style at Slipstream – in more ways than one – Dean had already seen some substantive changes in the way he would be working and training.
“There’s quite a few different things, finer details from equipment to expertise in training with guys like Allen Lim,” he explained. “A lot of really important stuff has been covered across the board, really taking care of finer details which makes a big difference at the end of the day when you put the small parts together.”
National jerseys always stand out in the peloton and attract special interest in the wearer, and Dean was no exception last year. Kiwi fans, as well as some international ones as well, also rallied around the New Zealand colours.
When PEZ spoke with Dean last year, he was confident he could win a stage in the Tour de France. Slipstream might yet take him there, to even prouder moments in his career.
And given the passion that Kiwi fans have for sporting victories overseas, they would probably be just as ecstatic as Dean to have the New Zealand colours standing on the top step of the podium.