Tour de France
Brave Impey living his dream
Daryl Impey (Getty Images)
Montpellier - Fifteen months ago South African Daryl Impey was racing in what
competitors on the elite World Tour would consider, in comparative
terms, cycling purgatory.
On Thursday, the 28-year-old from
Johannesburg stole the show at the Tour de France when he became the
first African and the first South African to pull on the race's fabled
The Orica-GreenEdge rider continued his fine form at the Tour, finishing in the top 15 on the day, and would lead Friday’s stage seven.
VIDEO: Impey celebrates behind-the-scenes
"This is a dream come true, magical moment, big day for South Africa and big day for African cycling.
"This is a really special day," Impey said after the race.
In the 2007 Tour, fellow South African cyclist Robert Hunter became the only African rider to have won a stage at the Tour.
Impey said he was happy to join his compatriot in the history books.
"Rob’s put South African cycling on the map, so I’m always the second for everything, so wearing the yellow jersey now, I’m the first for something."
The 28-year-old from Johannesburg started his campaign on Saturday with an impressive 11th place finish.
He finished eighth in Sunday's second stage, a 156km ride across Corsica from Bastia to Ajaccio, putting him fourth on the standings.
He then stayed in the top 10 of the standings when he finished 22nd on Monday’s stage three.
Impey was part of the nine-man team which won the 25km team time trial by less than a second on Tuesday’s fourth stage.
The result pushed him to second on the leader board.
In Wednesday’s stage five, the sprinter held on to second overall after he was the 13th rider across the finish line on the day.
"Sometimes all the stars line up for you and this is definitely one of those moments. To wear the yellow jersey at the 100th edition of the Tour de France is just a dream come true," said Impey.
Sitting in second position overall behind Australian teammate Simon Gerrans, expectations were high that Impey would be propelled into the race lead.
It later emerged that Gerrans had offered to "give" Impey the jersey.
"It was actually Simon's idea," said Orica sporting director Matt White, admitting that while it would change little for Gerrans, "for Daryl Impey, it's going to change his life."
But White was quick to dispel any ideas that Impey had not earned his moment of glory.
"People who would say that have probably never done a bunch sprint at the Tour de France before," added White.
"If you look at the positions Daryl's been in at the Tour, it's not easy to hold your position in the top ten in those hectic sprints.
"He certainly wasn't gifted the yellow jersey.
"He had to earn it. And to earn it, you've got to have the balls to stay up there in very very hectic finals."
The story of Impey's career is one that should inspire any athlete determined to make it in their chosen sport.
He left South Africa eight years ago for top French amateur club VC La Pomme, based in Marseille, but was soon on a flight home.
"It was my first time oveseas, so it was quite tough.
"In the year at La Pomme I learnt: from eating badly, trying to get too skinny to trying everything basically to become a professional bike rider.
"The season didn't turn out as planned. I felt treated as just another foreigner so I decided to come back to South Africa."
A phone call from fellow South African Robert Hunter, which offered a place at Barloworld, was his ticket back to Europe. Impey called Hunter "one of the most influential people" in his career.
But despite embarking on what appeared to be promising spells with the South African outfit, with whom he won the Tour of Turkey, and then Team RadioShack, Impey's career nosedived following an aborted move to Pegasus, which failed to even get off the ground.
He signed for the South African Pro Continental team MTN Qhubeka in 2011 but despite becoming national time trial champion, Impey hankered after a return to the big leagues.
Despite moving to German team NetApp, his fairy Godmother came knocking in the shape of brand new Australian team Orica-GreenEdge.
Team manager Shayne Bannan said Impey's "great physiology" was a factor, but added: "He's a South African, and they're like Australians. He's got a great character, he's all about team."
Since joining, Impey's confidence in his own abilities has soared.
"I came to the team as a domestique but quickly showed that I could do more than they expected," he added.
"It's not often a team can show faith in you so soon. The riders especially, they've always got my back. Guys like Stuart O'Grady come and tell me that I can win on certain days.
"I definitely feel at home on this team."
White went further, claiming Orica -- an Australian mining company -- had unearthed a gem: "He's been one of the finds of the team for us.
"If you look where he was 15 months ago, he was racing the Tour of Morocco! We picked him up, he's developed incredibly in the last 12 months.
"He's a very versatile rider, a super team-mate and we've re-signed him for the next couple of years. We hope he finishes his career with us."