Daryl Impey bucked the odds when he defended his title at the SA national road champs 162km road race in Pretoria today.
Although the reigning champion, Mitchelton-Scott’s Impey headed into the race with a big target on his back and was considered by many to be highly unlikely to repeat his success of last year.
Riding in the race as an individual, Impey came up against tough local and international competition, with especially the DiData WorldTour team having their sights strongly set on the national title.
Over the last three laps of the 16-and-a-half lap race around a 10km circuit it seemed almost certain that DiData’s Nicholas Dlamini or ProTouch’s Jayde Julius would take hold of their first national jersey.
Dlamini then broke away on a climb and seemed to have the race in the bag.
In pursuit of Dlamini, Impey attacked at just the right time on the infamous Tom Jenkins climb to break clear and take the lead.
The 34-year-old crested the climb on his own and time-trialled his way along the remaining descents and drags to the finish.
“I have a lot of experience on my side and I’ve been in that situation so many times in previous years, but I just kept everyone in the game and interested,” Impey said afterwards.
“I managed to close a few gaps and I did it [attacked] at just the right time. It was a very tough race and they threw everything at me.
“I was fortunate [to be able] to fight so hard in that final [stretch]. It was up to the legs there to decide who won.
“Fortunately I had good legs and I’m proud of the effort today.”
He added that it was particularly challenging to launch attacks over the top of the climb on each lap, with strong headwinds preventing any real moves from sticking.
“It was always going to be difficult to make a difference up there.
“You can get a split, but then you’ll still have a long way to go,” he said, emphasising how important it was to time his attack in the last couple of kilometres.
Although Impey raced as an individual, he said he was grateful for the support that came out in numbers to back him.
“I had a big support crew here today – my parents and friends – and so many guys who helped me.
“I was one guy but I had about 50 supporters cheering me on and looking after me, so I’m very proud to win today.”