Garmin-Transitions’ Kiwi sprinter Julian Dean seized the day at the Tour de France on Wednesday, and only came off second best to Alessandro Petacchi on the race’s fourth stage.
Dean, who normally works as the lead-out man for teammate Tyler Farrar, has been promoted at least for the time being as Farrar recovers from a wrist fracture.
In Farrar’s absence from the bunch sprint Dean took his chance with both hands despite still hurting from the various knocks he picked up on the crash-marred second stage.
He could only finish runner-up to a pumped-up Petacchi, who also won the opening stage in Brussels, but Dean is now hoping their persistence in recent days pays off with a win on Thursday or Friday.
“I didn’t feel super but I’ve been around a long time, I know how to follow wheels and get myself in the right position and that’s what I did – and ended up with second place,” said Dean.
“I didn’t quite have it to come around Petacchi at the finish, but it was alright considering I only came out of hospital two days ago.”
With Farrar likely to wait until the latter half of the race before trying to pull too hard on the handlebars, Dean is ready to step up to the plate.
But the 35-year-old, once labeled the best lead-out man in the world by former teammate Thor Hushovd, believes he won’t have it too easy as misfiring British sprinter Mark Cavendish attempts to relaunch his stuttering bid.
“It’s something I’m going to have to think a little bit more about now,” added Dean, whose team lost its GC leader, Christian Vande Velde, on Monday after he broke ribs in a crash.
“Obviously I showed today that I’m capable of mixing it in the sprints now, so (we will) try and change things around a little bit.
“But we’ve still got a good, strong team and I’m sure we can put out some good results and wait for Tyler to come around.”
With Canadian Ryder Hesjedal finishing fourth on stage three, and Dean second, the Kiwi believes a win is just around the corner.
“We’ll certainly try and consolidate our resources a bit more tomorrow and get a good plan together, hopefully take a victory. Fourth (Hesjedal) yesterday, second today, the next one’s a win.”
On the wide boulevards of Reims, where Australian Robbie McEwen took the honors ahead of German legend Erik Zabel in 2002, Petacchi was too strong for them all.
And while Dean dreams of his own success, he knows that both Petacchi and Cavendish will prove tough customers.
“Petacchi’s obviously very, very strong in those last 300 meters like that when it’s a big open sprint,” added the New Zealander.
“He’s very powerful and he’s got good slow acceleration to the line and I couldn’t really overtake him. He timed his sprint really well.
“We raced against him at the Giro (d’Italia), where he wasn’t good at all. Then at the Tour of Switzerland, where he won a stage.
“But he’s come here with no expectations, and that’s been his biggest asset. He hasn’t been under pressure and (been allowed to) concentrate on his performance.”
He added: “It’s always a surprise to see Cav’ not in the finish, but he’s a good bike rider, a courageous athlete and I’m sure we’re going to see him at the front of one of these stages — though not if we can help it.”