Daryl Impey made Tour de France history on Thursday by becoming the first African to take possession of the Tour de France maillot jaune.
Germany’s Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol dominated the stage six bunch sprint after a wind-hit and chaotic 176.5km ride between Aix-en-Provence and Montpellier, France, ahead of Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) and Germany’s Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano).
Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who claimed his maiden win of the 100th edition and the 24th of his career on Wednesday, finished fourth having crashed with 34km to race and having to battle to rejoin the peloton.
As Cavendish vented his frustration in angry fashion inside his team bus after the finish, Greipel handed his Lotto Belisol team a huge morale boost following the loss of their general classification contender Jurgen van den Broeck.
The Belgian, who has twice finished fourth overall, did not start Thursday’s stage due to a knee injury sustained in a crash on stage five.
“Sometimes happiness and sadness can be so close together, but [team manager] Marc Sergeant did a really good job in the bus to make us forget that setback and get us focused on the stage,” Greipel said. “We had to set this goal today to win the stage, and I think that shows the character in this team.”
Greipel, who could only finish fourth on stage five as Cavendish roared to victory, added: “Yesterday, we made just a small mistake and sometimes you pay for that in the biggest bike race in the world. Today, we wanted to make amends. The team supported me and carried out a textbook lead-out.”
Impey, a South African who rides for Orica-GreenEdge, had been sitting in second position overall behind teammate Simon Gerrans after Orica-GreenEdge’s victory in the team time trial on stage four and the 28-year-old made good on expectations that he could make history by carrying out his team’s stage six instructions to the letter.
Team manager Shayne Bannan later admitted it had been Orica-GreenEdge’s plan all along to hand the race lead to Impey, after the South African had helped lead their main sprinter Matt Goss out for the finish line.
The plan in “the last 3k [3km] was for Daryl to be around Matt Goss, and then for Simon and the other guys to do a lead-out, but basically for Daryl to put as much space between him and Simon as possible to get the jersey,” Bannan said.
Impey, who said compatriot Robbie Hunter was one of the “most influential people” in his career, positively glowed as he embraced his spell in the race’s fabled jersey.
“I’m really proud to be the first South African and the first African to wear the yellow jersey,” Impey said. “Sometimes all the stars line up for you and this is definitely one of those moments. To wear the yellow jersey at the 100th edition of the Tour de France is just a dream come true. History has been made... To be able to say I wore the yellow jersey for just one day is something I will treasure forever.”
Impey now leads Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen of Sky Pro Cycling by 3 seconds, with Gerrans third overall, 5 seconds back. Another Orica rider, Switzerland’s Michael Albasini, is fourth on the same time, while Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, who is wearing the white jersey for the race’s best-placed rider aged 25 or under, is fifth, 6 seconds back.
Having dug deep to help protect Gerrans’ race lead, Impey would be expecting the same from his teammates in yesterday’s seventh stage, an undulating 205.5km ride from Montpellier to Albi, France.
“We’ve been really united since we took the yellow jersey and I think we can keep the yellow jersey for one more day,” Impey said.
Tour de France favorite Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling), who was born in Johannesburg, but now represents Britain, is the best-placed of the general classification contenders in seventh place, 8 seconds behind.