When Daryl Impey speaks of the selfless commitment and sacrifice that he asked of his riders at the Santos Tour Down Under, his words carry plenty of weight.
The Israel-Premier Tech sports director, whose rider Stevie Williams won the race overall, starred in one of the finest examples of such traits at the Tour de France.
In the 2013 Tour, when the South African was riding for the Orica-GreenEdge team (now Jayco AlUla), Impey became the first African to don the yellow jersey of race leader when Australian teammate Simon Gerrans ‘passed it on’ to him after two days in the iconic strip.
The act unfolded on stage 6 to Montpellier when Gerrans, Impey, and their sprinter Matt Goss were in a lead group of 16 riders. After they led out Goss, Gerrans drifted off the back to make sure he finished enough seconds behind Impey to surrender the jersey to him.
Gerrans took the yellow jersey in the stage 4 team time trial in Nice won by Orica-GreenEdge in record time. His gesture on stage 6 was to recognise Impey for his selfless support of his teammates, such as on stage 3 at Alvi in Corsica when he led out Gerrans to victory. Impey’s ensuing two days in yellow signed off on a remarkable week for the team.
“It was amazing, the whole experience,” Impey said at the Tour Down Under on Sunday before stage 6 from Unley to Mt. Lofty. “It was a special time for the whole team.
“Nobody expected us to be in the jersey. No one expected us to win the team time trial. It was the first Tour stage win for the team. A lot of things all in one for the first time …”
The collective spirit and drive that fuelled Orica-GreenEdge in that Tour is akin to what Impey is trying to instil in his charges at Israel-Premier Tech – and it appears to be working.
Williams’ overall win in the Tour Down Under was secured with his stage 6 win. But the outcome was also a result of how well the team strategised and executed their tactics, and adapted to varying changes such as the withdrawal due to illness of their initial leader, Kiwi Corbin Strong who was third overall after stage 4.
Fortunately, when Strong withdrew, Williams was fifth overall and ideally positioned four seconds ahead of the other overall contenders going into stage 5. That was largely thanks to a four-second bonus he garnered on stage 2 with his third, behind Strong (who claimed a six-second bonus) and Mexican stage winner Isaac Del Toro (UAE Team Emirates).
It was on stage 5 where Williams took the overall lead, but only a countback over stage winner Oscar Onley (DSM-Firmenich PostNL). The two were on same time going into stage 6.
But all week, the team was present, from Williams, Gee, and Strong, to the experienced brains trust of Simon Clarke and George Bennett, to Nick Schultz and Guillaume Boivin.
“You need a team environment where you are looking after each other,” said Impey whose experience as a dual Tour Down Under winner – in 2018, where he beat Australian Richie Porte on a countback on the last stage, and 2019 – was also valuable to Sunday’s outcome.
Before Sunday’s stage, Impey spoke of teamwork and the need for riders to shed their ego for the collective gain yet also embrace their specific roles in trying to fulfil the team’s goals.
“Luckily we don’t have too many big egos,” Impey said. “Obviously, guys are ambitious. We had three guys who could potentially win the race [Strong, Williams, and Canadian Derek Gee]. But ultimately it came down to what’s happening on the road during the week, and then we’ve had to make some decisions, to say, ‘This is our Plan A, Plan B or Plan C. We understand that.’
“Then Corbin got sick and everybody saw Stevie do so well [on stage 2] and believed he can win. We’ve been managing that buy-in and everybody is buying in. “
Heading into stage 6, Impey was confident the team could defend the race lead, even though Williams and Onley were on the same time and five other riders were within 13 seconds.
“We’re glad that we’re not chasing seconds or chasing positions,” Impey said at the start of the final day. “We feel like we’ve got a bit of checkmate, but it’s a such strong team here, we believe if things do get a little out of control, we’re able to control them. Even though we are one down I feel we’ll be OK. It’s about our confidence and that the guys listen and say, ‘We are backing you.’ Our [pre-stage] meeting wasn’t about any mess … more the execution of what we need to do.”
Hence, when Israel-Premier Tech came to the Tour Down Under they did not target victory as their goal. Instead they focused on honing their strategic processes and being malleable to the shifting state of the race.
“For sure, we would have loved to say we have come here to win Tour Down Under,” he said. “We came saying, ‘What’s a realistic target?’ Well that was to get some guys up high on GC. We’ve been instilling that in the guys every day. Even yesterday [stage 5 to Old Willunga Hill] wasn’t about winning. Yes, we know we can win the race, but we were more focused on our goal … there’s a process to becoming a winner.”
Impey, who retired as a professional cyclist with Israel-Premier Tech at the end of last year, is enjoying his new role as a sports director. It’s a role that has now gotten off to a near-perfect start.
“I love being at the race,” he said. “I love being in this environment. When you stop [racing] you feel that part of me is over. But coming back, you feel you haven’t left … So, even though I am not on the road [racing], when you pull it together I feel like I was there.”
Asked on Sunday afternoon what it is like winning the Tour Down Under as a sports director as compared to being a rider, Impey smiled and said: “It’s super cool to start my [sports director] career like this.
“Tonight is going be a big night. I can enjoy it. I don’t have to think about the next races.”
What did you think of this story?