With his tenure at Orica-GreenEdge extended by three years, Daryl Impey is at home in South Africa preparing for his return to Europe in March. One part of looking forward, rather conversely, is to look back and reflect on how life has changed since he wore the maillot jaune.
"Life has been a bit different to what it was in the past that's for sure. People start to recognise you in the streets and there are people asking for autographs and photos and that certainly hasn't happened in the past," Impey explained to Cyclingnews. "I think it shows the country has a lot more appreciation for what happened at the Tour."
Appreciation provides validation, and for Impey it only fuels his motivation to set new benchmarks.
"It's always important to set yourself new goals, once you've achieved something so high, you always think there's nothing bigger or better to do," Impey said. "But there's still lots of races and I still have a bit to do to become a real household name in cycling, the yellow jersey is a great start and hopefully next year we can just add on from all that.
The 'shocking' omission
One organisation that did not seek Impey's autograph, however, were those in charge of the South Africa Sports Awards. Missing a nomination for the headlining Sportsman of the Year award, amongst a domestic scene drowning in rugby and cricket, was something Impey stressed was not going to change his life; he rides to win races not impress awards committees. The bone of contention for Impey was simply that having such an important achievement go unheralded highlighted the lower status that cycling holds in his native country.
"I think it's [the profile of cycling in South Africa] improving for sure, but there's obviously the nominations for Sportsman of the year in South Africa and its disappointing not to get the nomination because wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France is something that's never been done before," explained Impey. "It's an achievement that's as high as you can get in cycling. So to not get acknowledged is disappointing […] but it's only an awards ceremony, it's not going to change my life if I win it or not."
Impey also remains realistic that cycling in South Africa is unlikely to ever overthrow the mainstream sports.
"I think with cycling it's taken us a long time to get the results that we've got but in a country that's predominantly rugby and cricket orientated there's going to be … well, it'll probably never happen that we'll get that level of recognition," he added. "But I think a lot more young guys are turning to cycling now and that's really promising. There are now other teams that are coming up and saying they are going to be more involved in Europe which is exactly what we want. We want more and more guys in Europe to go overseas and be supported."
For African teams MTN-Qhubeka are the trendsetters, and despite his close friendship with Team Principal Douglas Ryder, and having spent a few months with the team in 2011 after Pegasus went belly-up, Impey is confident he will see out his days with Orica-GreenEdge.
"I've known Doug for years, when I was 18 and just a local professional in South Africa Doug actually picked me up, so we've had a really long lasting relationship," Impey said. "But at this point in my career I'm so happy to be a part of Orica-GreenEdge, I've got no ambitions to leave this team.
"But in the same breath I really want to see MTN-Qhubeka succeed and I'm sure they're going to eventually get a spot in the Tour de France one day. And when they get there I'll be the first guy to shake their hands."
Maillot jaune at Michelton
The first step for Impey, Gerrans, and the rest of their Orica-GreenEdge teammates as they begin their path towards 2014 is to take a step back and celebrate this year's achievements. The team will take this opportunity on December 1 at team owner Gerry Ryan's Michelton Winery in Victoria with a fans having the chance to mingle with the 2014 Orica-GreenEdge and Orica-AIS teams. Although generic press relations speak is to be expected, one garners the impression Impey is honestly looking forward to showing off his maillot jaune.
"We've never had a chance as a team to actually sit down and enjoy a nice glass of wine together because there's always a race coming up," he said. "It will be great to be back with Gerro and the rest of the team and it really gives us a chance to embrace and interact with the people that have supported us this year. It's actually always nice to hear their side of the story."
Another side of another story that many fans desperately want to hear are the goings on within the team after Stuart O'Grady's sudden departure and the recent allegations against Pieter Weening. Impey's attitude to what is normally a sensitive topic is bereft of the typical hysteria, and although not committing formally to a wholesale truth and reconciliation process, the basic idea of getting any skeletons out of the closet once and for all is something that appears to sit well with the 28-year-old.
"I can't really comment about riders in the team," he explained. "All I'd say is that if there are guys who have that past then now is the time to tell it because if it keeps coming up and it keeps coming up, it's just going to get worse and worse. At the end of the day it's everyone that's in it now that's paying the price."
Impey will partake in a week long camp in Australia following the River and Ranges Winery ride, after this he will return home to his family in South Africa until the Tour Down Under with a couple of classics and a big lap of France his main targets for the season to come.
"Well to repeat the yellow jersey is going to be very difficult. Those opportunities rely on a number of factors, you need some good luck, you need the right team and you need a course that suits you," he said. "Next year without the team time trial [at the Tour de France] it's going to make it quite difficult to get the yellow jersey in the first week, and realistically you only have a chance to get the yellow jersey in the first week.
"I think that because of that, getting the yellow jersey again won't be a goal, the goal will be to try and win a stage in the Tour. The first season's goals will be Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold race, those are the two races I've really pinpointed above anything else."
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