On days at the Tour de France when the top racers decide to take it easy, that’s the signal for other riders not chasing the overall title to seize the opportunity to shine.
On Sunday, Daryl Impey was that man.
Profiting from what amounted to a go-slow among top contenders on Stage 9, who decided to chill on the hilly trek across the Massif Central mountains, Impey made sure that he was in the breakaway group of riders who scooted away after the start in Saint-Etienne. He then beat Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot in a two-man sprint at the finish in the agricultural town of Brioude.
“It’s such a lottery trying to make the break,” Impey said. “Luck was on my side.”
Favorites for the Tour title in Paris on July 28 cruised into Brioude more than 16 minutes later, so casually that some chatted and drank from water bottles. French rider Julian Alaphilippe, who’d been cheered on by roadside fans celebrating France’s Bastille Day holiday, kept the race lead and there were no changes of note in the positions of other top contenders, including defending champion Geraint Thomas. He is still fifth overall, 72 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
“It’s just amazing, the support from the public,” Alaphilippe said. “It’s a day I will never forget.”
After a harrowing and exhausting Stage 8, and with tough climbs to come in the Pyrenees and, later, in the Alps, top contenders took a breather on the 106-mile stage of undulating hills peppered with three climbs of note.
Impey is only the second South African stage winner at the Tour — Robert Hunter also won a stage in 2007.
“Magical,” he said. “A beautiful day.”
Impey pointed to the South African flag printed on his jersey as he crossed the line.
He was part of a 14-man group — later joined by a 15th rider — that rode away shortly after the stage start. Because none of the breakaway riders were contenders for the Tour title, Alaphilippe and other top riders allowed them to get away and build up the biggest lead of any breakaway at this Tour.
The stage victory was Impey’s first in seven Tours. He also held the race lead for two days at the Tour of 2013.
The field of 172 riders that took the start in the former coal mining center of Saint-Etienne was quickly reduced to 171, when Italian rider Alessandro De Marchi of the CCC team crashed heavily a few kilometers (miles) into the stage.
A look at each state of the Tour de France:
July 6 — Stage 1: Brussels—Brussels, flat, 120.9 miles (194.5 kilometers) (Stage: Mike Teunissen, Netherlands; Yellow Jersey: Teunissen)
July 7 — Stage 2: Brussels Palais Royal—Brussels Atomium, team time trial, 17.1 (27.6) (Jumbo-Visma; Teunissen)
July 8 — Stage 3: Binche—Epernay, hilly, 133.6 (215) (Julian Alaphilippe, France; Alaphilippe)
July 9 — Stage 4: Reims—Nancy, flat, 132.7 (213.5) (Elia Viviani, Italy; Alaphilippe)
July 10 — Stage 5: Saint-Die-des-Vosges—Colmar, hilly, 109.1 (175.5) (Peter Sagan, Slovakia; Alaphilippe)
July 11 — Stage 6: Mulhouse—La Planche des Belles Filles, mountain, 99.7 (160.5) (Dylan Teuns, Belgium; Giulio Ciccone, Italy)
July 12 — Stage 7: Belfort—Chalon-sur-Saone, flat, 142.9 (230) (Dylan Groenewegen, Netherlands; Ciccone)
July 13 — Stage 8: Macon—Saint-Etienne, hilly, 124.3 (200) (Thomas De Gendt, Belgium; Alaphilippe)
July 14 — Stage 9: Saint-Etienne—Brioude, hilly, 105.9 (170.5) (Daryl Impey, South Africa; Alaphilippe)
July 15 — Stage 10: Saint-Flour—Albi, flat, 135.1 (217.5)
July 16 — Rest: Albi
July 17 — Stage 11: Albi—Toulouse, flat, 103.8 (167)
July 18 — Stage 12: Toulouse—Bagneres-de-Bigorre, mountain, 130.2 (209.5)
July 19 — Stage 13: Pau—Pau, individual time trial, 16.9 (27.2)
July 20 — Stage 14: Tarbes—Tourmalet Bareges, mountain, 73.0 (117.5)
July 21 — Stage 15: Limoux—Foix Prat d’Albis, mountain, 115.0 (185)
July 22 — Rest: Nimes
July 23 — Stage 16: Nimes—Nimes, flat, 110.0 (177)
July 24 — Stage 17: Pont du Gard—Gap, hilly, 124.3 (200)
July 25 — Stage 18: Embrun—Valloire, mountain, 129.2 (208)
July 26 — Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne—Tignes, mountain, 78.6 (126.5)
July 27 — Stage 20: Albertville—Val Thorens, mountain, 80.8 (130)
July 28 — Stage 21: Rambouillet—Paris Champs-Elysees, flat, 79.5 (128)
Total — 2,162.6 miles (3480.3 km)