It's not often a cyclist will experience two potentially career ending crashes in their lifetime, it's even less often that they will bounce back and continue racing at the same level after their recovery - but Daryl Impey is not your regular athlete.
An almost masochistic streak turned him to cycling after his father, Tony, asked him out on a mountain bike ride and the rush of the tricky descents, and DOMS of newly aching legs, diverted his attention away from playing football.
With a kind of mathematical precision – no doubt hinting at his later love for the stock market and financial news - his ambitions and career goals were plotted out step by step, ready to be ticked off upon completion. Daryl worked his way up through the local South African ranks until Microsoft Cycling Team, headed by former South African Olympian Doug Ryder, came calling in 2003. Impey absorbed everything he could from his first team, cementing that education with the U23 South African Time Trial and Road Race titles at 18 years old.
His performance in the Tour of Langkawi attracted an amateur team based in Marseille and his goal of 'riding in Europe' could finally be marked with a big tick. Unfortunately, what the heart wants isn't always what the rider needs and the next two years saw Impey back with Microsoft to hone his skills and get the wins needed to find another, more suitable, European team.
That team would turn out to be Barloworld, an Italian/UK registered team with a South African heart at the centre of it. It would be here that Impey would meet, and begin a long friendship with, a young Chris Froome, on a team that already included fellow South Africans John-Lee Augustyn and Robbie Hunter. So a big tick on the To-Do list there.
But of course, as the world of cycling gives, so does it take away, and it was with Barloworld that Daryl suffered a now infamous crash on the finish line of the Tour of Turkey in 2009. Displaced by what can only be called “seriously wonky” barriers, Rabobank's Theo Bos ill-advisedly grabbed Impey's leader's jersey. Oh, and launched Impey into said barriers breaking two of his vertebrae, his jaw, and costing him a tooth in the process.
Ever the pragmatist, Daryl thinks this incident, which brought him global attention and thus highlighted his wins so far, helped land him a spot with the newly formed Team Radioshack under the management of a couple of young gentlemen called Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel – something he had spookily dreamed about in his hospital bed.
Ultimately, the withdrawal of Radioshack's sponsorship from the team, and the pull of becoming more than a domestique led Impey to bounce between contracts and UCI levels before finally signing for new kids on the block GreenEdge – an Australian team that would go on to have many names but still remain a mainstay in pro-cycling as Team Bike Exchange-Jayco – for eight years.
And yeah, sure, he might have won some races and stuff, but more importantly he got to take part in some of the fabulous OGERocks videos that showed the team having fun and lip-synching to various tunes on various stage races.
Only kidding – Impey didn't “just” win some races and stuff – he became the first South African to ever wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, only the third ever South African to ride the race itself, and, oh yes, he won a stage. Check, check and check.
While Mitchelton-Scott were no doubt hoping Impey would resign for a ninth year, Daryl stepped out of his comfort zone and into a new team with new ambitions, being hand-picked by Chris Froome to help him in his bid for a fifth Tour de France win as part of Israel Start-Up Nation. But – and it seems you use that word a lot whilst talking about Daryl Impey – a crash at the Ruta del Sol in May 2021 ended his hopes of starting the Tour de France. In fact, it nearly ended his career.
Eight weeks off the bike with a broken pelvis and broken collarbone were enough time for doubts and fears to set in. To finally get back in the peloton was by definition an achievement – Daryl himself has said that a change of perspective was needed to build confidence and regain a chance at podiums after essentially having to learn how to walk again – and that's why crossing the line first on Stage 4 of the 2022 Tour de Suisse was such an incredible comeback, an impressive check mark to the list, whichever rider you were cheering for.
It's this long and varied career, tenacity and versatility, and his innate trailblazing of South African cycling that means we know Daryl Impey is a perfect ride leader for our South African adventure!
by Holly Blades
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