Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) became the first ever South African to pull on the yellow jersey at the Tour de France when a split in the peloton saw him move ahead of teammate Simon Gerrans at the head of the overall standings.
That the moment happened in Montpellier on stage 6 is a remarkable coincidence given that in 2007, Robbie Hunter became the first South African to win a stage of the Tour in the same city.
“Sometimes all the stars line up for you and this was definitely one of those moments,” Impey said after pulling on yellow in Montpellier. “It’s a career changing moment to wear this jersey in the centenary year and to be the first South African.”
The stint in yellow came as Impey has been level on time with team-mate Simon Gerrans since the Stage 4 team time trial in Nice. When Gerrans led out Matt Goss for the sprint today and subsequently finished in a split five seconds down, Impey was the beneficiary. He now leads the race by three seconds over Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
Impey’s tenure in yellow – which will probably last until Saturday when the Tour snakes its way to the first mountain summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines – will be greeted with jubilation in his nation back in South Africa. “Everyone’s going crazy back home,” the 24-year-old said in a press conference afterwards.
“The team rode a great race today and I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “It was so stressful and you need a strong team and we’ve really kept united and I think tomorrow we can definitely try and keep this jersey one more day.”
Impey has endured a tough slog to get to this particular career summit. In 2009, riding for Barloworld, he won the Tour of Turkey but finished the final stage on a stretcher after being inexplicably hauled into the barriers by Theo Bos in the sprint. The mass of injuries took months to heal.
In 2011 he was set to join the Australian Pegasus squad, but when that folded he was forced to rejoin South African domestic team MTN-Qhubeka. That was just a stepping stone and Impey returned to Europe half way through the season with ProContinental squad NetApp.
Impey, riding his second Tour, said Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Sharp) has been instrumental in helping him build a pro career. Hunter, another sprinter, helped secure him a place on RadioShack in 2010 after Barloworld withdrew sponsorship.
“Robbie’s probably one of the most influential guys in my career,” he said. He’s been carrying the flag for many years and I’m starting to carry it too
But it’s been at Orica GreenEdge where Impey has blossomed. In 2012 he won a stage of the Tour of the Basque country and got his first grand tour ride in the Giro.
“I came to the team as one of the domestiques last year and quickly showed that I could do a job more than what they expected and they put their faith straight away in me,” he said.