By John Leicester
The Associated Press
MONTPELLIER, France — Stage 6 of the 100th Tour de France was a textbook demonstration of teamwork.
Like playing pass the parcel, an Australian deliberately handed over the race lead to help a South African teammate and friend become the first rider from that country to wear the famed yellow jersey.
And Andre Greipel, who won the stage with a fierce finishing sprint, owed a debt of gratitude to teammates who plied him with drinks all afternoon, ferrying bottles back and forth from cars at the back of the race, so he didn’t melt in the scorching sun.
“Room service,” the big German said light-heartedly.
As the new leader of cycling’s showcase race, Daryl Impey can look forward to some first-class treatment, too. Being the first South African to wear the yellow jersey “will definitely change my life,” he said.
Rugby, cricket and, for the majority black population, football, are the big sports for South Africans. Impey can shop in the malls of Johannesburg, where he trains and lives, without being recognized, said his wife, Alexandra.
But that was before his buddy on the Orica GreenEdge team, Simon Gerrans, passed him the race lead at the Tour.
“Wearing the yellow jersey now is definitely going to change things for cycling, put it on the map in South Africa,” said Impey. “Hopefully people will start recognizing me, maybe.”
Gerrans knows the feeling. To wear canary yellow at the Tour is to be king for a day — or more depending on how long the rider keeps the lead.
Gerrans had it for two unforgettable days. Fans clapped and cheered when they saw him. Reporters chased him. A particularly boisterous crowd of Aussie fans played air guitar for him.
The jersey also carries extra responsibilities: news conferences, podium ceremonies and other distractions can eat into rest and recovery — so important for riders to survive the three-week trek over 2,115 miles. Injuries from crashes have already culled seven of the 198 riders who started in Corsica on June 29.
Impey worked for Gerrans earlier at the Tour, helping him win Stage 3 and riding hard in the time trial Orica won as a team in Stage 4. Gerrans figured it was time for some payback. So on Thursday he rode in five seconds behind Impey in Montpellier. That was enough for the race lead to pass from one to the other, because they started the day with the exact same overall time, with Gerrans in first place and Impey second.
“Daryl was a huge part of me getting the jersey so I thought it was a nice gesture to be able to pass it on to him now. Hopefully for a few days,” Gerrans said. “To have the yellow jersey, it just really changes your life as a cyclist.”
“I’ll have a bit more time to myself now and pass all that extra work on to Daryl,” Gerrans added. “I don’t count it as losing the jersey. I count it as passing it on to a mate. It was the plan before the stage and we were able to execute it perfectly.”