When Tony Impey became one of South Africa’s first card-carrying professional cyclists back in the early eighties, he could not have believed that his son would one day become the first African to don the maillot jaune in the world’s most famous cycle race.
At the time, sporting isolation had firmly shut South Africa’s doors to international competition and taking on the Tour de France was merely a pipe dream.
The pragmatic Impey therefore took the opportunities he had to make inroads on the domestic circuit and became a multiple national track champion in the process.
In 1976, he claimed the SA 20km title in a new national record of 24:35 – a mark that stood for 15 years.
That same year, he was selected for a track test series against a combined international team. He received his Springbok blazer alongside fellow future legends Jack Lester, Walter Thornhill, Joe Billet, Alan Dipple and Robbie McIntosh.
He was SA pursuit champion for three years running from 1979 and, at the 1981 SA Games, he confirmed his dominance in the pursuit and 40km events.
When he turned his attention to the road, Tony also proved himself as a tour rider, competing alongside flamboyant stars like Alan “The Idol” van Heerden.
From 1982 to 1989, he raced in the colours of various sponsors, including the well-known TV4 and Southern Sun teams.
In a foreshadowing of his son’s success, he took the yellow jersey for a day in the 1982 Rapport Tour and wrote his name next to two more stage wins in the annals of the country’s most prestigious race.
“In those days, cycling was more popular and exciting than it is today but there was not enough money to be a full-time pro,” he says.
Holding down a nine-to-five job, his pro fees and winnings were simply a nice addition to his earnings but not enough to keep a wife and two children.
But, as it turned out, Tony’s eight-year pro career gave his kids more money. It gave them a dream – especially young Daryl.
“Whatever sport he did, Mom and Dad supported him,” says Tony. “He wasn’t a bad footballer and tennis player and I think he tried rugby once.”
It was when Daryl discovered mountain biking and then progressed to road racing that his dormant passion really flared.
But, although cycling was clearly in his genes, it was not his interest in the sport per se that Tony encouraged but rather his son’s dedication to something he loved.
“I have never stopped encouraging him his whole life and continue to do so,” says Tony.
He says that holds true for both his sons, Daryl and Grant, who is also a keen cyclist.
Good character was something else he did his best to instil in his boys.
“I’d like my kids to think of me as a role model, and themselves as role models for others.”
Both he and Daryl built solid professional and personal reputations as the good guys of what is often a dirty sport. This is why it came as such a shock when Daryl tested positive for Probenecid, forcing Orica-GreenEdge to remove him from their Tour de France line-up this year.
“We as a family were devastated and had many sleepless nights.”
Tony says the negative media coverage was embarrassing for everyone involved.
“Although Daryl was able to prove his innocence, it caused a lot of damage to his career.”
He believes the South African Institute for Drug-free Sport could have cleared him sooner publicly than they did and thereby limited the ramifications for his son.
Standing together in a time of crisis, the Impeys are clearly a close-knit family. The youngest member is Daryl’s 17-month-old son Ayden, who is the apple of his grandfather’s eye and may one day continue their sporting legacy.
“I just love them all to bits,” says 60-year-old Tony proudly.
His other great pride and joy is his eponymous Johannesburg-based bike shop, which he opened after retiring from pro racing in 1989.
This year, Tony Impey Cycles celebrated its 25th year of business, thanks in no small part to the owner’s enduring love for and knowledge of the sport. And the business brain of his wife, Elly.
“She makes sure everyone gets paid on time. She does not ride a bike but, when it comes to work, I don’t know where she gets her energy from.”
As for Tony himself, he enjoys both road riding and mountain biking and still puts in a full day at the office.
Incidentally, he did eventually get his chance to compete on European soil against the world’s best. In 1992, Tony raced at the Veteran World Champs in Vienna, Austria, where he won the road time-trial, carving yet another Impey’s name in the international record books.