Daryl Impey is still trying to get to grips with his new status as one of the top road cyclists in the world.
“It’s still hard to believe,” the South African star said today.
He is now first on the latest World Tour list and 70th in the world individual road rankings.
All eyes will be on him when he competes in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race in Australia this weekend.
Winning the Tour Down Under after wearing the yellow jersey in 2013’s Tour de France will have boosted his confidence but also landed him with a heavy load.
“It’s always harder to deliver when there are expectations. It’s easier to perform when there’s less pressure,” he said from Australia today.
“I always believed I had it in me to lead and win big races, but this has been an eye-opener.”
Impey, who rides for Mitchelton-Scott, became the first South African to win the Tour Down Under, setting a time of 20:03:34 for the 810km, six-stage race.
“Leading the team was something rare for me,” Impey told In the Bunch. “It was a high-pressure race for the team. To be able to deliver on those high expectations was a huge step up in my career.
“It was a massive relief [to win] and I’m excited about the rest of the season.
“Many people, including me, thought it was asking too much of me to win. To push past my own expectations was very satisfying.”
Impey had gone into the tour “lying low”. It was reported that the team’s objective was to back Australian Caleb Ewan for the sprints.
“We fell short on a few stages and made a couple of tactical errors, which was a bit frustrating,” he said.
“I chipped away and managed to get second places in Stirling (stage two) and Norwood (stage four). I then realised I had a chance in Willunga (stage five).
“I decided to not follow Richie Porte and to do what I’m good at. I left some in the tank for the final stretch.
“When I came around the last corner and saw I had a lead of a few seconds I gave it my all. It was good enough to come second again, behind Porte.”
That performance enabled Impey to take the overall lead on bonus seconds.
“The margins were very narrow,” he said today. “Doing the lead-outs for Caleb gave me good finishing positions on every stage,” said Impey, who had also spoken out about the importance of still winning in South Africa just two months ago.
“It was fantastic to watch him grow on the tour. It was his first World Tour event and he showed a lot of guts,” Impey said.
“He has shown a lot of guys in South Africa what can be achieved.”