Impey makes history for Africa at Tour de France, Orica GreenEdge rider takes over in yellow
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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Impey makes history for Africa at Tour de France, Orica GreenEdge rider takes over in yellow

by Shane Stokes at 4:44 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Gerrans deliberately hands Maillot Jaune to his team-mate

Daryl ImpeyAlthough he finished thirteenth and away from the front line of riders in the finishing sprint into Montpellier, Daryl Impey made history today when he took over the Maillot Jaune of race leadership and became the first African rider to lead the Tour de France.

He succeeded Orica GreenEdge team-mate Simon Gerrans, who started the day level on time, ahead on stage placings, but who slipped to third overall when he finished 48th and the wrong side of a five second split in the bunch.

That may at a glance appear to be a disappointment for Gerrans, who won stage three and then took over the race lead when Orica GreenEdge won Tuesday’s time trial. However the opposite is the case.

As team directeur sportif Matt White explained afterwards, it was Gerrans’ intention to pass on the jersey to Impey, sharing the spoils of success and also helping to make history.

“Simon came to me yesterday afternoon and asked if it was okay for him to pass the jersey along to Daryl,” said White after the stage. “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 – well, it will change his life forever.”

Impey was understandably delighted by what happened. “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,’” he stated. “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.”

The 28 year old’s path in professional cycling has at times been a tough one. A talented amateur, he turned pro with the Barloworld team in 2008 and the following year won the Presidential Tour of Turkey. However he was wiped out on the final stage by the Dutchman Theo Bos, and needed a long time to recover from the injuries suffered.

Impey moved to Team RadioShack in 2010 but wasn’t retained when that team merged with the Leopard Trek squad. He signed instead for the new Pegasus project, but that collapsed before it ever got moving. Left stranded, he raced for a while with MTN Qhubeka in 2011, then completed a rare mid-season transfer to the NetApp squad in order to be able to compete in Europe.

After riding solidly there, he got another chance at WorldTour level racing when he was signed by Orica GreenEdge prior to the start of 2012. He quickly proved his worth, winning a stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour of Slovenia.

This year he won the South African time trial championships and also took stages in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Bayern-Rundfahrt.

Tuesday’s team time trial triumph and today’s commanding of the Maillot Jaune eclipses everything that came before, though, and rewards him for the persistence he showed when times were tough.

That’s likely part of the reason why Gerrans was willing to hand over the race lead. “During yesterday’s stage when I had the yellow jersey on, I was really enjoying the experience,” the Australian explained. “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.

“I went into today’s stage with the plan of helping in the sprint and then drifting back in the bunch. 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?”

Impey is fully appreciative of the gesture, and was glowing in his reaction.

“Simon is probably one of the most selfless riders out there. He's a great champion and he's always willing to commit to everyone around him – today was proof of that,” he said. “We were riding for Gossie today and obviously it didn't work out. But with me being the final lead-out man it worked out the way it has. I wouldn't say that I stole the jersey, I like to think that we are sharing it.”

He and the team will try to defend the lead on tomorrow’s lumpy stage but whatever happens, he’ll remember this day and this moment for the rest of his life. He fully appreciates the significance of the achievement. “There are a lot of really, really good cyclists who never get the chance to wear the yellow jersey,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

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