5 July 2013
Daryl Impey made history on Thursday when he became the first South African to don the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, in the 100th edition of the world’s greatest cycle race.
Riding on the Australian-based Orica-GreenEdge team, Impey had shown up strongly throughout the first week of the Tour. It was his lead-out that helped team-mate Simon Gerrans win the third stage and with it the leader’s yellow jersey.
The following day Impey and Orica-GreenEdge were the winning team in the fastest team time trial in Tour de France history and Gerrans held on to the coveted jersey until Thursday’s 176 kilometre stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier.
It was in the Montpellier, six years earlier where Robbie Hunter became the first South African to win a stage of the Tour, and Montpellier once again proved to be a happy place for South African cycling as Impey seized the yellow jersey.
The stage finished in battle of the sprinters, with Impey working to lead out Matt Goss. Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol raced to the win, but Impey’s work with Goss left him five seconds clear of Gerrans and moved him up into the yellow jersey, three seconds ahead of ahead of Sky Pro Cycling’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, with Gerrans in third, followed by Michael Albisini, also of Orica-GreenEdge.
South African-educated Kenyan Chris Froome, the pre-race favourite, sat in seventh place, eight seconds off the lead.
A beaming Impey commented in a post-race television interview: “If you told me that I would experience this moment in my life, I would tell you you were lying.
“It’s a dream come true, a magical moment. It’s a big day for South African and African cycling. This is a special day.”
Impey doffed his cap to Hunter, who missed out on the Tour when his team, Garmin-Sharp, opted not to select a sprinter. “I have always been the second for everything,” he said, recalling how Hunter had always been the trailblazer, “but today I’m the first for a change.”
‘This is it’
Later, he said, on the Orica-GreenEdge website: “I was pretty emotional on the podium. 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.”
Recalling the stage, Impey said: “I knew if I did the lead-out for Gossy as planned, I’d probably end up in yellow.” Yet, when the moment arrived, the South African star, a three-time stage winner this season so far, seemed somewhat surprised and overwhelmed.
Orica GreenEdge’s Sport Director Matt White admitted that putting Impey into yellow had been planned before the stage. “Simon (Gerrans) came to me yesterday afternoon and asked if it was okay for him to pass the jersey along to Daryl. 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 first South African in yellow, even if it is only one day, well, it will change his life forever.”