Winning for a fallen friend: Impey’s emotional Tour Down Under stage victory

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You can always pick out the wins that mean the most. Maybe there’s a little extra excitement as they cross the line, perhaps they embrace their teammates and staff with a little extra vigour, maybe there’s even a tear in their eye.

Judging by Daryl Impey’s emphatic celebration when he crossed the line into Campbelltown today, this one meant a lot. Not just because his stage 4 win claws him closer to the overall lead at the Tour Down Under, but because it comes after a challenging period for him and his family.

“A good friend of mine, Justin, passed away — just a sudden heart attack in the beginning of the year,” Impey said after the stage. “When I left South Africa I left in a bit of a sad mood and it was a pretty rough time for our whole family.

“He played a big part in our family. So when it came here I wanted to do something special and to be able to deliver today was pretty emotional and definitely a confidence booster.

“I had him in my mind and I dedicate this victory to him. I was really pushing for him at the end. It’s such a special win.”

A few minutes earlier Impey had been at the team van, celebrating briefly with his teammates and managers before heading to the podium for presentations. As team owner Gerry Ryan wrapped him in a brief embrace, Impey excitedly exclaimed “You’re here! My good luck charm!”

But the hugs at the Mitchelton-Scott camp weren’t reserved for Impey alone. Lucas Hamilton, the 22-year-old Victorian, received a hearty round of handshakes, hugs, and words of praise. Impey might have been the one winning the stage, but Hamilton played a vital role.

The plan had been for Hamilton to ride his own tempo on the steep section of the late Corkscrew Road climb, then be there for Impey afterwards.

“Lucas, well the win was actually due to him,” Impey said. “He did a great job. [He’s] still a young professional but we had a plan in the beginning that he was going to ride his own climb and kind of wait for me in the middle of the climb, which he did.”

Impey and Hamilton crested the climb together as part of a 16-rider chase group, with a 5km descent between them and the finish line. Just up the road were climbers Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Wout Poels (Sky), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Woods (EF Education First), the quartet having formed after a Woods attack on the steep section on the climb.

Impey and Hamilton remained calm, the latter helping his leader (and the chase group) bridge across with just 2km to go.

“I think with that descent it’s quite hard to stay away because it’s quite flowy and when you have a bigger group behind you, the bunch rolls a bit quicker down there,” Hamilton told CyclingTips. “We knew that guys like Richie and Woods and that were going to ride away [on the climb] and so when that happened we weren’t stressed out.

“There was a lot of the guys that had something to lose by those four staying away so I only had to do maybe around two, three k to go — I got on the front and they were in sight and then I just sort of pulled it back. Then after that I was just trying to keep the pace on enough that no one could attack over the top and get away before the finish.”

It was a group of 20 riders that got to the finish where Impey was able to outsprint overall leader Paddy Bevin (CCC) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana).

That result moves the defending champion to within seven seconds of Bevin’s overall lead — ever closer to becoming the first rider to win two consecutive Tours Down Under. But that won’t be easy.

“We’re around the mark now,” Impey said. “Seven seconds is still quite hard to get on Paddy — he’s riding really well. [We’ve got] quite similar characteristics. But yeah, we’re going to have to go for it and I’m sure tomorrow will be quite an interesting stage and definitely Willunga [Hill, stage 6] is gonna be the big decider still … although Paddy’s got a really nice buffer now on all the other GC guys.”

Bevin is the favourite from here. Impey wasn’t able to outclimb him today and he’ll likely need to do so on Willunga in order to win the race overall. Or he’ll need to take some bonus seconds on tomorrow’s sprint stage. Or both.

“I think we have to be aggressive wherever we can,” Impey said. “No doubt that trying to win this race is based on seconds, we learned that last year. So we’re going to have to try and take our opportunities and try and make things happen and hopefully it pays off.”

Bevin’s got a similar attitude. He’s confident of being able to climb with Impey but would certainly like more of a buffer. Particularly given that Woods, Bennett, Poels and five-time Willunga stage winner Porte are all within striking distance with an uphill finish still to go.

“It would be great to take more time tomorrow,” said Bevin of the sprinter-friendly fifth stage. “That would be a real step towards the final day on Willunga because it’s still only 21 seconds over Richie on Willunga — still not a huge buffer … or the other three guys that got away with [him].”

The race for the ochre jersey is intriguingly poised. For now though Impey and Mitchelton-Scott can celebrate a plan well executed and a victory that had meaning beyond the bike race.

Race results

Follow the link to full results from stage 4 of the 2019 Santos Tour Down Under.

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