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Olympian Impey makes history in Tour de France
- Updated: July 4, 2013
South Africa’s 2012 London Olympian Daryl Impey has catapulted African cycling onto the world stage by becoming the first African rider to don the prized yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
Impey, part of the impressive ORICA-GreenEDGE team who won the team time trial on Tuesday afternoon ended in the front group of 16 riders in Thursday’s stage six to take the yellow jersey from team-mate Simon Gerrans of Australia.
Gerrans had won Monday’s fourth stage of the Tour and led out Matt Goss for Thursday’s sprint and conceded five seconds to Impey when the bunch split before the line.
ÔÇ£Simon came to me yesterday afternoon and asked if it was okay for him to pass the jersey along to Daryl,ÔÇØ Sport Director Matt White said on the official ORICA-GreeenEDGE website. ÔÇ£I said it was fine. They’re great mates. What they’ve done for each other will never be forgotten. Simon won his stage with the perfect lead-out from Daryl, and he had his two days in yellow. For Daryl to be the first African in yellow, even if it’s only one day ÔÇô well, it will change his life forever.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£I was pretty emotional on the podium,ÔÇØ admitted Impey. ÔÇ£I was standing there and thinking ‘This is it.’ – this is the proudest moment ever of my career. I don’t think anything will ever top this. That’s not to say I’ll never be able to do it again, but not in this way. It’s like winning the jackpot.ÔÇØ
With strong winds in the forecast, a nervous peloton set off from Aix-en-Provence. Luis Angel Mat├® launched a lone attack and found himself up the road without any company from the stage six start.
ÔÇ£I don’t think he wanted to be up the road,ÔÇØ said White. ÔÇ£He attacked and looked behind him. When he realised no one had come with him and no one was chasing, I’m sure he felt pretty miserable. The general speed and anxiety of the bunch caught him before the intermediate sprint.ÔÇØ
With Mat├® reabsorbed, the peloton stuck together for the intermediate sprint and the Col de La Vay├¿de, the stage’s only ranked climb. Crosswinds kept the pace high and the nerves higher. ORICA-GreenEDGE stuck close to the front in defence of the yellow jersey, often sharing pace-making duties with teams eager to stay near the front to keep their overall contenders safe.
ÔÇ£The nervousness made the race fast all day,ÔÇØ said White. ÔÇ£I’m not surprised that the bunch stayed together until the end.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£It was such a stressful day,ÔÇØ Impey added. ÔÇ£I just wanted to get to the finish. I knew if I did the lead-out for Gossy as planned, I’d probably end up in yellow.ÔÇØ
Multiple crashes disrupted the final hour of racing with the peloton splitting in the last kilometre. The Australian outfit managed to stay safe despite a close call for Goss on the run-in towards the finish. ÔÇ£It was a really tricky final,ÔÇØ noted White. ÔÇ£The roads were narrow. We knew there was a good chance there would be gaps at the finish.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£Gossy got caught up in a barricade at 700m,ÔÇØ White continued. ÔÇ£Someone swung up from the Lotto train, and as he dropped back, it impeded Gossy just as Brett [Lancaster] and Daryl accelerated. Gossy lost the train and started chasing, but at that speed and with such a short distance to make gains, he wasn’t able to make contact.ÔÇØ
Andr├® Greipel (Lotto Belisol) took the stage win ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano). Impey finished on the same time as Greipel to move into yellow.
ÔÇ£The team did a massive amount of work ,ÔÇØ said Impey. ÔÇ£I couldn’t have done it without them. They rode on the front all day. They got me bottles. Everyone did something. Svein [Tuft], Cam [Meyer] and Stuey [O’Grady] were on the front all day. Everyone stayed around me.
“Gerro did the lead-out. When I say everyone did something, I mean everyone ÔÇô I don’t want to forgot anyone. It wasn’t just the riders. It’s the staff and management, too. It’s Gerry [Ryan] for giving us all an opportunity to compete at this level. Everyone pitched it to get me this yellow jersey. This is super special for me, and it’s a massive moment for South African cycling.ÔÇØ
Gerrans was caught on the other side of the split at the finish. The former yellow jersey is now at 5ÔÇØ in third overall. Impey and Gerrans are separated by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) in second, 3ÔÇØ behind Impey.
ÔÇ£During yesterday’s stage when I had the yellow jersey on, I was really enjoying the experience,ÔÇØ said Gerrans. ÔÇ£I thought this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I basically wouldn’t be in yellow without the support of Daryl. At that point, I decided it would be a really nice gesture to pass it on to him for a day or two.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£I went into today’s stage with the plan of helping in the sprint and then drifting back in the bunch,ÔÇØ Gerrans continued. ÔÇ£We all had to be together in the final to pass it over like that. The first objective was to keep the jersey within the team and ride for the sprint. While riding for the sprint, it would be simple to pass it over because it was only a matter of stage places on count back. Today I had the opportunity to change the life of a good mate of mine. That’s why I decided to do it. Who wouldn’t?ÔÇØ
While Gerrans may be cavalier about his decision, Impey is anything but.
ÔÇ£Simon could have kept the jersey if he had wanted, but he gave up his opportunity to give me an opportunity of my own,ÔÇØ explained Impey. ÔÇ£That shows exactly what this team is about. We have a culture where everyone is important and everyone gets an opportunity. I’m really thankful for that.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£There are a lot of really, really good cyclists who never get the chance to wear the yellow jersey,ÔÇØ Impey added. ÔÇ£I’m one of the lucky ones.ÔÇØ
And respected recognition comes from fifth stage winner and legendary sprinter Mark Cavendish, who took to Twitter to herald South African excellence: “Really nice to see @darylimpey in the yellow jersey! Proper nice guy. Always friendly. Always working hard.”