Written for In the Bunch

It was the year 2001 Anno Domini and, after driving through the night, I stopped in the quaint little town of Barberton for my first and only Jock.

As I hailed from the coast, there was never much opportunity to take part in this magical event, which was once the first stage of the now defunct Hansom Tour.

But I was determined to give it a shot before the onset of Alzheimer’s, hip replacements and other ailments spawned by old age.

I was in-between jobs and thought it the opportune time to at last tick off this race – the final one on my to-do list.

Fast-forwarding to the second half of the last stage (it was a three-stager back then), I found myself in the company of a stocky youngster who, like me, fell victim to the relentless gutter with some twenty kilometres to go.

We formed a Laurel and Hardy alliance into the teeth of the headwind, sharing the pace-making fifty-fifty. With every passing kilometre I became more impressed with my new partner’s work ethic and never-say-die attitude.

Whenever I expected him to miss a turn, he would forge his way past me again – his legs clearly buckling from the sustained effort.

Towards the finish, I pulled up next to him and asked his name. He told me it was Daryl Impey.

And that was how I met him.

His dad, Tony, unselfishly spent much of the seventies and eighties at the head of the pro peloton, guiding the late Alan van Heerden to many famous victories. They simply didn’t come any tougher.

“Kaapmuiden to Barberton,” Daryl remembered the day out load when I phoned him the second time. When I initially got hold of him, the previous day, he was queuing in the Spanish Embassy for a visa.

“That road is a killer,” he continued. “You know, I’ve never had a good day on it.”

It was his second Jock, Daryl went on. He crashed in his first, ruining a new set of wheels his dad forbid him to use – he had snuck them on and found himself in heaps of trouble afterwards . . .

Despite the fact that he grew up as the son of a professional cyclist, it was soccer that he was drawn to at first. His cycling memories are more related to it being his dad’s job and hanging out at the track with the Van Heerden kids.

His love affair with the sport started on a small scale after he went mountain biking with his father. He did that for three or four years, but admits that he was not as technically proficient as some of the others – he was simply fitter (and tougher, I suspect).

Before Burry Stander came along, there wasn’t much of a future in mountain biking. “The guys used to go over and get clubbed.”

So he switched to the road.

Daryl signed his first pro contract with Team Microsoft the year after I “met” him. He was eighteen and the youngest in the paid ranks.

With a sprinter like Malcolm Lange on the team, he was assigned first lead-out man status, which frustrated him endlessly. For who wants to be the first to pull over in sight of the finish, he asked rhetorically.

His nature was simply too competitive to allow the status quo and he dogmatically started to focus on his sprints, even taking his team-mates on in training to prove he was faster. By the end of the season, he was last lead-out man.

After two years with the team he ventured to France, but it turned out to be a tumultuous episode. He was unhappy and a cyclist – according to him – needs to be happy to perform.

On his return in September of 2006, Douglas Ryder once again took him under his wing and, after a slow start, he sprouted wings and won seventeen races the following year – including two stages of the Giro del Capo.

That got him noticed by the guys with the big cheque books and he was duly snatched up by Team Barloworld, which turned out to be the next piece of his yellow puzzle.

One thing led to another and last year he was declared overall winner of the Tour of Turkey while lying in his hospital bed after the much-publicised crash at the hands of Dutchman Theo Bos.

Apart from saying that they have spoken and made their peace, Daryl is tight-lipped about the incident. He says it is time to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past.

Having signed for Lance Armstrong’s Team RadioShack, his immediate future – starting with the Tour Down Under in Australia in January – is sure to include a lot of personal sacrifice, but then, he has the very best genes for the job.

E-mail me at perico@mweb.co.za or visit www.inthebunch.co.za.

Coetzee is a former journalist and full-time cycling fanatic whose company focuses on sports communications.

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