Daryl Impey says goodbye to pro cycling in Montréal

The first African to wear the Tour de France yellow jersey ended his career Sunday with a tearful goodbye and a bear hug from longtime teammate Simon Clarke

Clock12:51, Monday 11th September 2023
Daryl Impey gave one more big pull to help his team leader at the 2023 GP Montreal

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Daryl Impey gave one more big pull to help his team leader at the 2023 GP Montreal

When Daryl Impey rolled to a halt on his final race, he ended up about 300 metres short of the finish line. Yet, in reality, he had already crossed all the lines he needed to.

The small matter of crossing the finish line one more time – or the nine more times that would be required to actually finish the 220km GP Montréal – were not important for the South African anymore.

With his retirement officially underway, all that was left for him to do was shake some hands, hug his friends and shed a tear for a career that redefined what a whole continent was capable of.

“There's been so much sacrifice, so many ups and downs, but I am relieved in a way because I know I don't have to take the risks anymore,” Impey told GCN at the foot of the podium, where he received one final public celebration of his career.

“I still am going to miss racing in the peloton, spending time with the guys – telling jokes, telling stories, hearing war stories after the race – but I am really looking forward to being back with my family and to spending time doing something other than cycling.

“I have dedicated 16 years of my life to this career, but it's been more than that. I am looking forward to trying to do something else and take a bit of a break as well.”

Impey, who began his career in 2008 for Barloworld, has been a landmark rider for African cycling. While the South African was not the first African Tour de France stage winner – that honour goes to Robbie Hunter for his 2007 stage win – he was the first African to wear the yellow jersey.

That stint in yellow goes down with his own stage win in 2019 and two Tour Down Under crowns. Not to mention the nine – yes, nine – national time trial championships.

Impey, it seemed, was always there or thereabouts.

In his last laps around Montréal, he was able to soak being thereabouts one last time, with many riders younger than him offering him a send-off from the brotherhood of the WorldTour.

“A ton of the guys patted me on the back as I went through the group and it was nice, showed there is still some respect," he said.

Meanwhile, Greg Van Avermaet - who was gifted a custom Montreal Canadiens jersey for his last time at the race - will hang up his wheels later this year, giving Impey an opportunity for some mild gloating.

“I could rub it in and say ‘this is my last race' - they still have a few more to go."

One rider who is slated to have "a few more" is Impey’s teammate Simon Clarke. Despite being just one year younger than Impey, the Australian is signed on for another year with Israel-Premier Tech in 2024.

Nonetheless, when Impey pulled out of the GP Montreal halfway through, Clarke was already there to welcome his old friend and teammate.

“Look, we've had quite a long career together, from the start of GreenEdge and even before,” Clarke told GCN. “We both had a tough entry into pro cycling, didn't go straight into WorldTour teams and we spent a few years bouncing around different teams before we found our spot at GreenEdge.

“Although we are not quite the same age, we grew up in cycling together.”

Impey and Clarke were not only teammates at Orica GreenEdge in 2012 and at Israel-Premier Tech now in 2023, but they both stayed at the GreenEdge set-up for a number of years, with Clarke helping Impey into the yellow jersey in 2013. Beyond being teammates, Clarke was also in the breakaway with Impey when the latter won his Tour de France stage in 2019.

With the number of times the two have crossed paths in their career, it was more than fitting that Clarke was there to welcome Impey into retirement at the end of it all.

“The GreenEdge guys always stick together,” Clarke said, reflecting back on the roots of their friendship and what it meant to be teammates on that original Australian squad. “ I think Luke Durbaidge and Micheal Hepburn are the only two guys still around but we stay in touch.

“We had a reunion at the Tour Down Under this year, all the original GreenEdge crew and they played a few of the Back Stage Pass videos. It was great to see everyone, even though almost everyone has retired since it was 10 years ago.”

Alas, Impey is the next of those riders to take the step to a future beyond cycling, while Clarke is fighting Father Time before he bows out. The peloton, as is always the case, is forever moving onwards.

While Clarke is not on his way out of the peloton yet, as he reflected on what it means to be an older rider in the modern peloton the reason why retirement is a relief for riders like Impey is clear.

“Every year I try and be five per cent better, and if you're not getting better people are passing you,” Clarke said. "You need to get better to stay the same. I live by that philosophy.”

Impey, with slightly different phrasing, had the same thing to say himself.

“I think it's time, the guys are coming younger, fresher, they're riding a lot better and we can't take that next step up. The sacrifices are more. We spend more time away than ever and we have families and kids and it's harder to get away.”

While Impey is ready for a break from the cycling world as a pro himself, he hinted in his short interview on stage to the audience in Montreal that he might not stay away from cycling completely. So, with one eye possibly pointed towards a cycling career away from racing, we had to ask what he would tell a younger rider hungry to have the career he lived.

His advice ended up being pretty simple:

“Make hay when the sun is shining. When I was riding round here yesterday, Corbin [Strong] was like, ‘I thought the climb was going to be a lot harder than this’ and I realised that's how I used to feel when I was younger.

"So when you've got legs like them and you feel young, make the most of it.”

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