Daryl Impey is happy to have returned to the European peloton, and has taken over the captain's role at Team NetApp. The South African is currently riding the Tour of Bavaria as his first race and has his eye on Saturday's time trial.
Impey had signed with the Pegasus Cycling Project for the 2011 season, but like his other prospective teammates, was left hanging when the project received no racing licencez He returned to his homeland of South Africa and rode with a local Continental team for the early part of the season.
However as confirmed earlier this month, he has been with the German Professional Continental-ranked Team NetApp, replacing the ill Steven Cozza as team leader.
“It's awesome to be back,” he told Cyclingnews. “My priority was to bet back to Europe. I'm glad to be here and to be a part of NetApp. They have been very welcoming.
His one-year contract started on May 21, and he immediately leapt into racing action at the Tour of Bavaria – not necessarily the easiest race to start up with.
Friday's third stage “was one of the hardest days, the weather as well,” he said. Impey finished in the main group, over five minutes down on breakaway winner Michael Albasini of HTC-Highroad.
Hıs aim now is to do well in Saturday's time trial, a relatively flat 26 km. “I am South African time trial champion, and really looking forward to it. It's hard to tell right now how I will do,” he said. “I'd like to have a good performance. I haven't done a time trial in a while, but the way I've been riding so far, I think I can do a good one.
“When you look at the field here, there are a lot of top time trialists here. Cancellara is the main guy, but there are quite a few other guys who can win. You never want to say you will win. I will just get out there and do the best I can.”
Impey, 26, turned pro with Barloworld in 2008 and rode with them for two years before joining RadioShack for the 2010 season. He then signed with the Australian Pegasus project, and at the last minute was left scrambling for a contract.
“Pegasus fell flat on its face. It was quite shocking,” he told Cyclingnews. “All of us were in the same boat but it was every man for himself.
“The important thing was to find a job. I was really looking forward to staying in Europe. Then that was like a slap in the face – the paper you signed wasn't worth anything in the end.”
Impey then returned to South Africa where he rode for the Continental ranked MTN-Qhubeka team. He had a number of successes there, winning a stage at the Tour of Morocco and finished second overall, as well as third overall in the Tour of South Africa. He also took the national time trial title.
“I got some wins and we did quite a few races, but not up to the standard I will have here,” Impey admitted. “Riding there and doing all those smaller races, you don't really know how you are doing in comparison with European racing.”
“But it was good to persevere.”
Doubts arouse as to whether he would be able to make the return to Europe. “You know, you get the scenarios in your head – you know, 'out of sight, out of mind' and all that. There you are in South Africa riding little races that nobody sees.....”
“So yes, there were some doubts, but always in the back of my mind. My fiance kept telling me 100 times, 'it's just a year, you have lots of people looking out for you, helping you, it will work out.”
And when it happened, it happened quickly. NetApp team manager Ralf Denk contacted him over his website and within a week things were settled.
Impey will be the team's stage race leader. “They said from the first day that they will be riding for me, that I will be number one. I never really had support like that before, maybe the last year at Barloworld.”
“They are really looking out for me. It is rare to find a team where they will do that from Day One.”
The next races on his calendar are “probably the Tour de Suisse and Austria. A few smaller races, then probably the Tour of Britain.” That will be followed by the World Championships.
As he pointed out, “the more races, the more chances to win.”