Julian Dean's final race as a professional was always going to be an emotional event for him - and for another rider, too.
As one of New Zealand's best road cyclists - one who spent 17 years as a professional and competed in 20 Grand Tours, including seven Tours de France - Dean deserved to go out with a flourish at the road nationals in Christchurch yesterday.
He finished third in a race that attracted a strong field of pros.
The respect shown by his colleagues in the peloton was obvious at the start line. It had been arranged, without Dean's knowledge, that he would begin the race in front with his two sons, Tanner and Val.
It was a very European gesture and it brought 37-year-old Dean, who heads to that continent tomorrow to begin his new career in team management with the World Tour team Orica GreenEdge, to the brink of tears.
The 180km Calder Stewart-sponsored race was won by hometown favourite Hayden Roulston, who overcame a 48-second deficit on the final of the 12 laps to chase down Radioshack Nissan Trek teammate George Bennett. It was Roulston's third title after wins in 2006 and 2011.
His victory did not go down well with every rider. As he left the victory stage, rider Roman van Uden "got up in his face and became very aggro", said an onlooker.
The observer said van Uden started pumping up his chest and muttering in Roulston's face. A shocked Roulston laughed it off and van Uden was jeered as he disappeared into the crowd.
It was Roulston's win, but Dean's day. "I struggled in the climbs but today's race almost paralleled my career," Dean said. "A lot of fighting, coming back to the front, getting dropped and coming back. Taking the decision to retire here really feels like the right thing, being able to share it with my family."
Bennett, of Nelson, who finished third in the recent Tour de Vineyards, bridged up to the late break by Auckland pair James Oram and van Uden on the penultimate lap, before breaking clear on the final climb up the infamous Dyers Pass.
He stretched his lead to 48s but could not hold off the strength of Roulston and Oram on the final, flat 21km to the finish.
A course change this year removed the final hill climb from the last lap.
"To be honest, I thought I had it but it was too long to the line from the hill," Bennett said. "They have changed the race course, which makes it exceptionally hard for a bloke like me to win."
Roulston praised the retiring Dean.
"Julian came here and wanted a good race, so he's gone out on a high, and that's awesome."