"It's a dream come true, a magical moment". The South African Daryl Impey is talking not only for himself, but also on behalf of his country and his continent. His performance at the Tour de France is a historical moment for cycling: for the first time in history, an African rider is in the lead of the biggest and most prestigious stage race in the world.
He claimed the yellow jersey on Thursday, at the finish of the sixth stage. Two days earlier, Impey had already climbed onto the podium in Nice as part of the Orica-GreenEdge formation, victorious in the team time trial. Following that, he was always up there in the action during the bunch sprints, which were won by Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and AndrÃ© Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
Impey, 28, has already tasted success at UCI WorldTour level: a stage of the Vuelta Ciclista a Pais Vasco en 2012 and in 2013. Interestingly enough, another South African had already left his mark on the city of Montpellier, in the south of France, which was the stage of Impeyâs exploit on Thursday: in 2007 Rob Hunter became the first African rider to win a stage of the Tour de France.
"I'm really proud to be the first South African and the first African to wear the yellow jersey", declared Impey. "History has been made and I'm really excited. I'm sure a lot of people back in South Africa are really happy."
This amazing performance further boosts a splendid 2013 season for African cycling. Part of world cyclingâs second division (UCI Professional Continental) since January, Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung made waves at the end of March when its German sprinter Gerald Ciolek won Milan-San Remo. One week later, this South Africa-based team, that in reality is Pan African, offered a momentous opportunity to Tsgabu Grmay: the former World Cycling Centre trainee became the first Ethiopian to win in a UCI event, the fifth stage of the Tour de Taiwan. In April, another rider who trained at the WCC, Eritreaâs Natnael Berhane (Team Europcar) was victorious in the third stage of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey, an Hors Classe event in the UCI Europe Tour.
These brilliant victories have two common dominators: the individual talent of the athletes that is increasingly apparent among the different African countries, as well as the collective training and coaching work supported by the UCI and the WCC.
The new leader of the Tour de France also learnt a great deal from these dedicated âteachersâ such as Doug Ryder, who went on to form the Team MTN-Qhubeka. This project is now a partner of the WCC in Africa: the professional team offers logistical and financial support to train young athletes from all over the continent, and in return, the Centre provides a âreserve groupâ, preparing the teamâs future athletes â even though the trainees remain free to join other teams.
Following its success, the WCC in Africa is stepping up its activities: more training courses and talent detection camps, equipment of higher quality, access to top-level sporting facilities, trainees invited for the first time this summer to compete in competitions outside Africa...
In parallel with this training work (which also includes coaches and commissaries), the UCI has been working since 2005 on the UCI Africa Tour. The road events on this circuit act as a stepping stone for the continentâs athletes. It was on this circuit that Impey clocked up more and more victories between 2007 and 2011, winning the Giro del Capo and finishing on the podium of the Tour du Maroc and the Tour of South Africa.
Between the World Cycling Centre and UCI Africa Tour, other riders could well follow Impeyâs suit. Bernard Hinault, five-times winner of the Tour de France, is sure of it: âImpey, is the confirmation. There is talent everywhere. I am lucky enough to go to Africa every year for the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, in Gabon, and each time I see new talent, a cycling culture that is opening up, itâs magnificent."
It would be fair to say that the new yellow jersey that belongs to the whole of Africa is not an end result, but the beginning of a passionate story.