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Impey backs another African connection to take over

Daryl Impey predicts his spell in the Tour de France yellow jersey will end on Saturday, but he expects fellow African-born rider Chris Froome to take it home at the end of the race.

AFP agency reports that South Africa’s Impey, who took the race lead on Thursday from Orica-GreenEdge teammate Simon Gerrans, was given a relative baptism of fire on his first day defending the race’s fabled tunic.

Stage seven was an undulating affair over 205.5 kilometres from Montpellier to Albi, and when the pace set by Peter Sagan’s Cannondale team increased on the second of the day’s four climbs, the elastic snapped.

With the remarkably hot conditions adding to their workload, several top sprinters who had been hoping for yet another bunch finish in Albi saw their hopes fade.

Britain’s Mark Cavendish, a 24-time stage winner, German sprint rivals Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel, and Australian Matt Goss were all left behind.

In all, a group of 84 riders were left behind as Impey dug deep to stay at the front of the peloton as it chased down a two-man break composed of German veteran Jens Voigt and Frenchman Blel Kadri.

The tactics worked out great for Sagan, who timed his finish line sprint to perfection to leave Kittel’s Argos teammate John Degenkolb in second, albeit a bike-length behind, with Italian Daniele Bennati in third for Team Saxo.

Impey crossed the finish line in 12th to defend a 3sec lead over Edvald Boasson Hagen which he says will be over by the end of Saturday’s eighth stage, the first of two consecutive days in the Pyerenees.

Asked how much he wanted to keep the jersey, the 28-year-old from Johannesburg said: “I was really determined. An opportunity like this doesn’t come often. “As a rider in this position, you’d be silly not to try and defend it and give it your all.

“But I didn’t feel today at any point I was going to lose the jersey. It was just a hard, solid day.

“There was a moment on the second climb that the pressure was on, but we handled it pretty well.

“After we got through the second climb I was pretty confident we’d keep it in the end. But I was happy to see the top of that climb, that’s for sure.”

Stage eight is a 195km trek from Castres to the summit of Ax-Trois-Domaines. There are only two big climbs but the formidable Col du Pailheres is an ‘hors categorie’ (unclassified) monster at 15.3km long with an average gradient of eight percent, and some passages at 10.5.

From the highest point of this year’s race (2001m altitude), a long descent towards Ax-les-Thermes ensues before the bunch tackles the 7.8km (average gradient of 8.2) climb to the summit finish.

Nairobi-born Froome, who lived in South Africa as a teenager but now has British nationality, played down suggestions it is where he and Spanish rival Alberto Contador, a two-time race winner, will first cross swords.

“I can’t say now what’s going to happen tomorrow. We have to see how the race pans out. We’ll let the legs do the talking,” Froome told French television.

A final week packed with climbs in the Alps will play a much bigger role in deciding this year’s successor to the absent Bradley Wiggins.

And Froome, who finished runner-up last year and has been the form rider of the Grand Tour riders this season, is the man to beat, says Impey. “He’s obviously a different climber to Contador but I think he is going to be hard to beat,” he said.

“I really think Chris Froome is going to win this race, barring any mishaps, although Contador also showed at the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) last year that he’s a fighter and he doesn’t give up so easily.

“It will be a great battle, but I think Chris will be able to handle himself.”


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