By: Guy Wilson Roberts
“It was the best opportunity I’ve ever had at the Tour”, Dean told PEZ recently from his home base in Valencia, Spain.
An apparent mix-up in the road book for stage 11 into Montpellier saw several of the lead group, including Dean and Tom Boonen, go down on a surprise corner with only 800 metres to go. Robbie Hunter took the stage, a first for a South African rider, and Dean felt the agony of coming so close to being the first stage winner from New Zealand.
“The most disappointing moment I’ve had in all my Tour rides,” he concluded.
Dean’s Tour campaign this year was a definite success, and finished with a near-win for Hushovd on the Champs-Elysees.
Opportunities for a chance to grab stage win glory at the Tour are rare for Dean, as his usual role on his Crйdit Agricole team is the main lead-out for Norwegian fast man Thor Hushovd.
It’s a job that he relishes, though, and which has commanded him a lot of respect in the peloton. In this Tour, Hushovd grabbed stage 4 into Joigny, with Dean giving a picture-perfect performance straight from Sprint Lead-Outs: 101. Afterwards, a jubilant Hushovd described Dean as the best lead-out man in the world.
“To do such great work is something to be proud of,” Dean explained. “Cycling is 99.9% hard work, sweat and tears – it’s the 0.1% that you do it for. Those are the moments.”
Dean’s vast experience includes all of the Grand Tours – he also rode the Giro earlier this season.
The duo came close to a repeat of last year’s win on the Champs-Йlysйes, beaten only to the line this year by an in-form Daniele Bennati.
“We weren’t too disappointed,” Dean said. “We did everything right, but Bennati was better on the day.”
Overall, though, according to Dean, the team was happy with its achievements in the Tour.
“It was a good performance, what with the stage win and two second places,” Dean told Pez. “And finishing as the best French team overall was important, too.”
For 32-year old Dean, it was his third successful completion of the Tour, with all three coming since he joined Crйdit Agricole from team CSC in 2004. Like the other sprinters in the peloton, surviving the three weeks of the Tour presents singular challenges, particularly in the mountains. On stage 8 to Tignes in the Alps, for example, the grupetto of around 60 riders was only a minute outside the time limit.
But he now feels like a veteran, with a few tricks up his sleeve.
Speaking of experience – Dean has it by the bucketful. He has been racing at the top level for quite awhile now. Remember this USPS kit from 2000?
“You do get smarter,” he explained. “You know when to conserve and when to attack.”
This year’s Tour will be remembered as much for the drug scandals as for the tough days in the mountains. While some riders were outspoken to the media about the doping developments, Dean was content to focus on his own job and keep his head down. A Julian Dean thing, or a Kiwi thing, perhaps?
“It’s what a professional athlete does,” Dean responded. “You focus on what you believe in as an athlete – you lose focus if you think about other riders.”
Dean was unable to stay out of the media spotlight entirely, and for good reason. As the current New Zealand national champion, he was resplendent in the national sporting colours, artfully coordinated by Crйdit Agricole’s kit supplier, Nalini.
“It was new, something no one had seen before, which drew more attention,” he explained.
Vaughters is looking for some hard men and with the addition of both Magnus and Dean – they could have some good possibilities for Paris-Roubaix in 2008.
A strip change will be in order for 2008, however, with the announcement this month that Dean will join Jonathan Vaughters’s Slipstream team. For Dean, he’d initially spoken with Vaughters about opportunities for up-and-coming Kiwi riders on the team, but the talks soon became more serious.
“He’s experienced and older, which we needed a bit more of,” Vaughters explained when contacted by Pez. “And I know he can win in the right circumstances, so I figured he’d be a good fit.”
Even with Crйdit Agricole’s title sponsor leaving the team at the end of 2008, there seemed little doubt that Roger Legeay – an institution himself in French cycling – would continue the team in some capacity. But Dean saw an opportunity with Slipstream to broaden the possibilities for his palmares.
“I’ve always looked for new opportunities,” he said. “And after talking with Jonathan I could see myself being part of the team.”
Vaughters explained to Pez that he saw Dean very much in a lead sprinter role in the team.
“We have a few young sprinters coming to the team, so for me, he is going to be a lead sprinter, but also a mentor,” he said.
Dean’s years of experience in the European peloton will be particularly valuable in that mentoring role, according to Vaughters.
“I also think Julian’s personality and ‘hardness’ will be a good influence on the young guys,” he said.
Of course, joining Slipstream will involve adopting the controversial Argyle Armada colours, a subject on which Dean chose to respond carefully.
“I’ll just have to be like David Millar and take the national colours to the team as well,” he joked, but said that he was serious about returning to contest for the national championship title.
“I’ll definitely defend it.”
And Vaughters was more than happy to welcome another national champion’s distinctive requirements into Slipstream’s attire.
“All Black argyle would be cool,” he said, in reference to the inspiration for colour scheme.
Dean expressed some concern with Slipstream’s (current) non-Pro Tour status and said that the focus would be on next year’s Paris-Nice as an opportunity to showcase the team and secure a wildcard entry into the Tour de France.
For now, though, Dean was looking forward to the rest of the season and, when he spoke with Pez, first up was the Eneco Tour.
The World Championship was also on the calendar, where Dean has finished in the top ten on two occasions – the highest placings for a New Zealand rider.
“I’ve the capacity to be amongst the top 30 riders at the finish, so anything could happen,” he said.
As for the Tour de France, and a chance to be kissed by the podium girls, Dean was sure that Slipstream could get him there.
“I still believe I can win a stage of the Tour.”
Perhaps still in his national colours, expect this Kiwi to be flying in 2008.