When Daryl Impey rolls across the finish line in Montreal tomorrow, a new chapter begins. The 38-year-old South African will call time on his 16-year career, leaving behind a legacy that goes far beyond his impressive palmarès. The peloton will lose one of its biggest characters and one of its most respected riders but for Impey, the time is right.
“It hasn’t hit me yet I don’t think. I think it will hit me on Sunday when I think jeez this is the last one, I’m actually doing this. I don’t know if I haven’t prepared for it or if I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Like when I get in the race, when I’m suffering, when I’m hurting, then I feel like it’s the right thing to stop. But then you also think, ‘you’re never going to have this again, and you’re never going to do this again’. I joke with the guys and I say, ‘god it’s the last free dinner, it’s the last free lunch, the last time the team is paying for this’,” Impey says with a laugh.
“I think when people start messaging then you start getting a bit emotional. Maybe after the race when I’m talking to the team and we have dinner and I have to say something, then it will probably feel a bit more real, like, okay, this is the end. And when people shake your hand and go ‘Man, it was a pleasure racing with you’ then you you feel it. But, I know that it’s going to be the end now and there’s not going to be another day where I have to stress about training, about having a beer. It’s going to be quite nice to have a beer without feeling guilty. It’s that kind of thing that I’m looking forward to.”
Impey announced his retirement at the beginning of the year but when it came to deciding on where he wanted to race for the final time, the Canadian races stood out.
“They’re good races to come to. They have a nice vibe, we come to cool cities, it’s just fun. It. You know, part of cycling has been exploring the world and enjoying it and this was one of those big races that I always liked.”
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal is one of the toughest one-day races on the calendar so when everyone tells Impey to enjoy the race tomorrow, he’s not so sure that’s going to be possible.
“It’s a hard race to finish. I’m probably regretting it now thinking why did I choose such a hard race to race? But I kind of wanted to have an objective like this at the end of the year. They’re hard to race, hard to be in the front, and it kind of just forces you to get out of your comfort zone and give it everything you can.”
A long way from home
Impey has a palmarès that most cyclists would dream of having. But rewind 16 years and 30 wins and the 22-year-old packed his bags and left South Africa with a one way ticket to Italy. Into the unknown.
“2008 was my first year as a pro. I came over from South Africa into a South African team, Barloworld and I was living in Italy. I came across with Froomey actually, they threw us in there together. Robbie Hunter had won a stage in the Tour de France the year before and they were looking for South Africans so Robbie opened the doors for us to get in. I mean, when I look at where I was there and I was thinking about it on the massage table today, I never ever thought it would get to this point. Even as I got further in my career, I was always thinking this is maybe the last contract. And then I actually got 10 years further on from that. It’s amazing how fast everything’s gone. When I think now, I’ve got married and we’ve had three kids during that time. It’s even small things. I promised the kids we would get a dog when I stopped racing and that was back when Ayden was eight. And now he’s ten and we still don’t have a dog so things like that stick in my mind.”
Like every cyclist, the boy from Johannesburg dreamed of wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey. Not only did Impey achieve that dream, but he went on to make history as the first African to wear it. But it’s one of many moments in his career that stand out.
“The Tour de France yellow jersey was obviously a huge moment. Just iconic. It’s not a win but it’s what every cyclist dreams of. People always say to me that they’re sure the Tour de France stage win is the biggest one. Of course, it’s the biggest in stature and my biggest result. But my favorite win was when I won the national championships road race for the second time. That was my favorite just because I had everyone there, my family, I had all my friends, everyone was around the circuit. And it was a tough day. Everything, everyone was against me and like I pulled it off, you know? So that was a big day and we celebrated afterwards, and it was a big moment although it’s not significant in the world of cycling, in terms of points and everything else.
“I mean, the Tour was ultimately the best, biggest highlight of the career. But then I’ve had some really nice wins like the stage in the Dauphine. I got dropped the lap before and then I was kind of out of it, and then Carlos Verona dragged me back and said ‘Come on, let’s try it’. Then I shifted my role and I said no, I’ll help a teammate move up. And then he got dropped and then I was just there at the end and thought I would try and get a top 10, you know? And then I actually won the sprint and that was against lots of good guys.”
Friends for life
“My Tour Down Under wins were special because I had such a relationship with the race over all the years, helping Gerro to win and being part of those successes and then having my own success. And also racing with my friends,” adds Impey.
Girona has long been home for Impey, his wife Ally and their three boys. The tight knit cycling community there is home for the many foreign riders who packed their bags and said goodbye to their families to live their dream as a pro. There, friends become family.
“You know all the guys in my team were my friends. It’s very rare that you can race with your teammates and call them your best friends. The guys that I hang out with in Girona, the guys that are coming to my house on the weekend for barbecues, all those kinds of things, you know, those are the special moments for me. We’ve made friends for life. You talk to other riders who say you can count on one hand the guys you will stay in touch with when you finish professional cycling. But I’ll still be in touch with them.”
“I also want to thank all the teams and staff I have raced with for the countless hours behind the scenes. Without them I would never have been able to reach the heights I did.”
A lasting legacy
Impey’s name will forever be etched in cycling history as the first African to wear the yellow jersey. But his legacy is built on much more than that.
“I would love to think that I’ve inspired people back home, kids back home, Africans back home,” admits Impey. “I think there’s obviously some iconic moments in my career that stand out and I’ve ticked some of those boxes. I think it doesn’t stop here really. I think even though you’re not racing a bike, you know, there might be some opportunities to continue that legacy.”
“Even during these last couple races, there have been a few races I’ve gone to and there’s obviously a new wave of young guys coming through. We laugh about it, they say “Hey dude, I follow your channel, I remember something you did and I was watching it with my dad back home” things like that. That to me is really special. You haven’t just done it and people haven’t noticed it. You know, there’s been times where you’ve led riders to a win and they go, “Gee, remember that lead out you did then” and it makes you realize that people remember what you have done and that’s really cool.”
The next chapter
The months have ticked by quickly this year and before long, Impey and the family will pack their lives up and move to Sydney, Australia. A new chapter awaits and maybe it’s finally time to get that dog.
“I’m looking forward to the new challenge when we move to Australia. We will be fish out of water. We know a lot of people, we’ve got family there, we’ve got friends there but I think trying to carve the next chapter of our life is going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to the weekends and not having an excuse so I can’t be at the kids’ games. I’m looking forward to being a dad. I want to be able to be a husband and make up some lost time with my wife Als, who has not only kept the Impey household together but has been my rock and anchor through all the good and bad and put me and the family first before herself.”
And if any of his boys tell him they want to follow in their dad’s footsteps?
“I always say that my kids can do what they want, and if they want to be a cyclist, I mean I’ll support them. I mean, it is a gruelling, hard career. But I’ll close my eyes and I’ll hope they come back with their skin on and all of that.”
No matter what happens in the race tomorrow, Impey can be nothing but proud of his career. As a winner, a teammate and road captain, a good mate and above all, a loving father and husband.
Thank you, Daz.