MONTPELLIER, France (VN) — Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) made history Thursday, becoming the first African to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
Yet he and everyone else on his team know that the run in yellow will all but surely end Saturday when the Tour turns into the Pyrénées in what will be the first true test for the GC contenders in the centenary Tour.
“We hope to carry yellow into the Pyrénées,” Impey said Thursday. “Sometimes all of the stars line up. This is a career-changing moment. To wear this jersey in the centenary Tour, to be the first South African, it’s just magic.”
Since entering the elite peloton in 2012, Orica has built its success around the legs of Impey, Matt Goss, Michael Albasini, Simon Gerrans, and Cameron Meyer.
The big wins have come, with stage victories in all three grand tours and classics success with victory at the 2012 Milano-San Remo.
All are capable riders, all win a lot of races, yet all will be spit out the back door once the Tour hits the beyond-category steeps of the Alps and Pyrénées.
That doesn’t worry Orica brass, at least not for now. They didn’t come to this Tour to win the yellow jersey, but to have it a few days is certainly giving them a taste for more.
“Green used to be my favorite color,” said Orica owner Gerry Ryan before Thursday’s start. “Now it’s faded to yellow.”
Orica isn’t planning on ditching its sprinter/stage-hunter philosophy just yet, but team brass told VeloNews that the team is on the hunt for a possible GC captain to lead the team into the future.
“There will be a GC future when we find someone who can ride [GC],” Matt White said. “If we find the right rider who fits in our team, we’ll be happy to keep tracking along, and just winning a lot of races.”
The one rider who was the natural option for Orica was Tasmanian Richie Porte.
White confirmed Orica made a big push for Porte.
“Make no mistake; we wanted Riche Porte. Porte decided to stay with Sky; fair enough, he’s on a team that works very well for him, but we wanted him,” he said. “Richie is already a top-10 GC man. With full team support, who knows what he could do. I think in the next couple of years, Richie is a podium-man in a grand tour, for sure.”
Porte, however, opted to re-up with Sky, and passed on an offer to join Orica.
Porte told VeloNews he was happy at Sky and said that the team is giving him chances to ride for GC, so he wasn’t keen to move from the proven GC program at Sky to join Orica and start from scratch.
White said for Orica to seriously challenge for GC in a grand tour, they would have to bring on more climbers and other GC-specific type talent.
“We’d have to pull in a couple of climbing guys. Richie isn’t a guy who can win the Tour right now, maybe in a couple of years he could,” he said. “We’ve got a very experienced team here that could support a GC rider. We could just change some roles, because we could look after a GC rider, just not in the high mountains. So we wouldn’t have to change the team too much.”
White said the team is looking to develop Australian talent, but didn’t discount signing a non-Australian captain.
“We’ve got our eyes on a few guys, but at the moment, we are developing the guys we’ve got. If something comes up, with someone that fits into the culture of our team, then we’ll take it,” he said. “Cameron Meyer, [Luke] Durbridge, [Michael] Hepburn, all those guys have got a few more years before they can try.”
For the time being, the team is sticking to its strategy of hunting for stage wins, chasing shorter stage races, and eyeing the one-day classics.
That strategy paid off big time this Tour. Gerrans won a stage, Orica won the team time trial, and the squad has the yellow jersey.
For Impey, he fit right into the Orica plan.
“I came to the team last year as a domestique, but I quickly showed that I could do more than they expected, and they started to back me right away,” Impey said. “All the boys worked together today. Thanks to Simon for being such a great champion and to pass it to someone else. Today just shows how everyone was committed 100 percent.”
Impey will start Friday and perhaps Saturday in the yellow jersey. By Sunday, the Tour will all but surely have a different race leader.